self released, 2010, DD album, 58m 48s
€varies (£5.46 on eMusic)
Punk was like some kind of natural catastrophe: in terms of the frantic pace of pop-music it happened an eon ago, but the shockwaves that spread outward from its point of impact, like a tsunami, get more powerful the more open ocean they traverse. Our understanding of popular music before punk is now characterised by a growing awareness of its crypto-oppositional qualities; and the narrative of its subsequent history is dominated by its influence on all kinds of rock music, and a lot of electronic music as well.
Paranoid Android grab a fistful of those strands of influence and make them their own, with a sound that is rooted in the eighties, but also displays a keen awareness of creative developments through the nineties and noughties, particularly in electro-industrial genres. This is a sound that has all but vanished in the UK (or sunk below the radar), but it’s alive and kicking in Europe, and particularly in Germany, where this band hails from.
The band self-identify as New Wave, which is a catch all term, originally applied to a wide range of punk contemporaries, and immediately post-punk acts (sometimes including punk itself): the sounds presented on Paper God relate most closely to the later, synthesizer infused, and darker sounds of bands like Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Sisters Of Mercy and The Cure. The vocal inflections of Guido Vortex are particularly reminiscent of that era, with the hollow, unemotional timbre pioneered by the likes of Ian Curtis and Jon King. His pronounced German accent enhances the effect for British ears (he sings in English).
Paranoid Android’s instrumental textures rock a lot harder than any of the influences I’ve mentioned: the guitar has been embraced again by many musicians with an interest in dark electronic sounds, and about time too! There are some excellent overdriven, wah-wah guitar tones on this album, and some high energy, rhythmic, danceable riffing.
Danceable is a useful adjective here: a good number of these songs have a beat that’s as well suited to the club as the concert venue. The drums are electronic, and handled by the keyboard player: the band make the sensible decision to use an electric bassist, however, which is crucial in enabling them to bridge the gap between rock and synth-pop. The synthesizers have melodic and harmonic roles, as might be expected, but are also a crucial element of the groove, with nicely tweaked sounds sequenced into driving, trance-like rhythms that virtually compel you to stand up and dance.
The songs have mournful themes, and melancholy, sentimental melodies, which with the synthesizers place the material firmly in futurepop territory, like VNV Nation with guitars. It’s not an earth-shattering fusion, and it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it is still an unusual strategy, and it makes Paranoid Android a pretty distinctive and individual proposition.
It’s no longer the 1980s, and here in the UK, where I’m writing, many listeners will be unable to square the circle of melancholy music that’s made for the dancefloor: it’s their loss. It’s precisely that combination of darkness and kinesis that makes it so effective, lending its atmospheres a filmic quality as they punch through the alienating sensations of the everyday. This is a decidedly urban music, and is radically oppositional in its ironic celebration of the gloomy underside of modernity. Paranoid Android know exactly what their creative goals are, and they realise them with great musical skill and charisma.