flow machines – high res

Postmodernism in pop music is a wonderful thing; we live in an age where subversion, irreverence and eclecticism have reinvigorated more commercially oriented sounds to the point where the charts are actually interesting again. You can only imagine my delight then on laying my eyes on the amateurish artwork for Flow Machines’ sophomore album Hi-Res – ‘oh, the irony,’ I thought as I downloaded it through a delightfully earnest offer of ‘pay what you want’ on the band’s site. Given that Flow Machines are an act known for bypassing the traditional music industry, sidestepping publicity and generally being quite elusive, they can only really be assessed on the quality of their actual music. So, here goes.

 

As Silent Disco began churning out stuttering electronic drum rhythms and pulsating synth melodies, my expectations slowly shifted towards something post-ironic – seemingly confirmed by its self-aware lyrical turns. Unfortunately though, the track oversteps its mark, attempting to be a rousing clubland call-to-arms before slipping into a particularly contrived coda of “I know, that you know, that they know, you want it.” Ironic? No. Lazy? Yes.

 

The following track Open Up continues this theme of a lack of imagination disguised as something verging on parody. Its resoundingly camp opening melody sounding like an outtake from The Postal Service’s high water mark in synth-pop Give Up, the principal word there being ‘outtake’. The music really isn’t the issue here though; it’s hardly original by any stretch of the imagination, don’t get me wrong, but it’s lyrically that Hi-Res truly manages to devalue itself to the point where that ‘pay what you want’ offer suddenly feels less like generosity and more like some cruel joke.

 

Analog Dialog with its hackneyed attempts at consolation – ‘when it all caves in, you take it on the chin, it may not feel quite right, this stuff happens all the time’ – is brimming with stilted, cheap conversation, so utterly unbelievable that you once again start to believe there must be a certain level of irony in operation here.

 

The album’s lead single Any Other Day is both its greatest saving measure and its most damning feature. It’s without a doubt the closest Flow Machines come to crafting emotionally vibrant and interesting pop music but it also confirms how seriously intended the album’s other nine tracks were and for that Hi-Res is largely unforgivable.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for naïveté in music; simplistic expression through music can be charming, endearing and downright lovely in its shambolic understatement of what it’s trying to say. The problem with Hi-Res though is that it doesn’t seem to have any of these qualities, it just meanders from one half-hearted, sloppy, vocal line to another, as an array of electronic instruments do their best to offer a level of expression that, lyrically, Flow Machines just don’t seem capable of.