Monday, February 4, 2013
Hot & Cold - Border Area on Moniker Records
There’s a few things that might explain the unique sound of Hot & Cold, beginning with the dynamic that comes from the laser focus of writing and performing as a duo, which in this case which goes even deeper as Slim and Josh Frank are brothers. But in an attempt to recreate their references you’d have to take forward looking siblings and expose them to Ottowa, Canada and Beijing, China, and chances are you’d still never end up with the utterly desolate and futuristic sounds on Border Area, their first full length on Moniker Records.
The title also seems to provide clues to their indefinable sound which hovers between punk and synth pop, delivered in a sub zero freezer and drawing on that late ‘70s Suicide menace. This no man’s land is immediately gloomy and repetitive, the sound of alien S.O.S. signals inadvertently picked up over an AM radio at the North Pole. It’s fitting that the story goes Robert from Moniker first heard them in a bar... on cassette no less, while travelling through Eastern Europe. Just another stop on the global stage for Hot & Cold.
The duo is essentially experimental, even when working with heavily electronic beats and synth tones, it’s delivered in decidedly anti-pop ways. “No Dreams Tonight” even harkens back to the industrial age of bands like Throbbing Gristle who were just making sense of the possibilities and failures of technology. Like these cackling screeches of malfunctioning lasers piercing through the track will attest. But unlike TG, who at times dare you to keep listening, Hot & Cold eases the listener into chaos before they know where they’ve ended up - with all with the calculated distance of a band that isn’t trying to get your attention. They manage to work successfully past the limitations of this machinery, instead of fighting against it’s inherently cold nature, they highlight it’s shortcomings. A monotone vocal with a slight distortion is the most emotion you’re going to get like a look from across the bar that you aren’t wanted. The very creation of this thin, manic sounding album feels like a reaction to an increasingly fractured civilization. As if we don’t deserve or even want permanent monuments, but instead settle on chopped together beats and harsh mechanics that Hot & Cold willingly deliver.
“Vanish” even goes as far as to sound apathetic... anything but recorded or performed organically. Not only is this rhythm created inside a machine, but there’s a manufactured distance to the whole track, like most statements on this record, it’s not in the business of predicting the future anymore, it’s an ominous reflection of the present.
B-Side’s “Test tower” fills the space with crisp, alien sounding beats while Simon sings about it’s dimensions, massive and temporary. Built as a test? But then aren’t all structures? Everything has an expiration date, the skyline isn’t going to last forever. Like an old man in a once familar city that’s all of a sudden changed into something unrecognizable, Hot & Cold offers no judgement, it’s just the way it is. Progress and change are inevitable.
This combination of minimal instrumentation never gets old, they’ve pushed the formula to the limit and kept it interesting the entire record. Like a popsicle stick model of Mount Rushmore, these humble materials somehow get used like no one ever intended. The harshness keeps this hard wired in paranoia and Simon consistently straddles the line between a tortured, distant vocal and deadpan Kraftwerk style, close and blown out. Finding the balance of tempo between something fast enough you might be inclined to move around to and so slow you might doze off. Total punk in it’s attitude of this stark, new age, the duo with tunnel vision sets this up to be repulsive meanwhile hypnotizing you into putting this on again.
It’s a similar journey in a lot of ways to Alex Zhang Hungtai of Dirty Beaches, another global musician who has distilled contrasting cultural influences down to something futuristic and unsettling. But what’s the thread running through these like minded musicians who’ve come to terms with pop on this global scale?
We seem to be headed to a pretty bleak place.
Pick this up from Moniker Records.