Posted by on April 23, 2015


Bonding Tapes, 2.17.2015

Tim Cosner’s DEADTECH/MODERNHOMES begins with a series of gorgeous misfires. “Scrapes Low,” the first song on Cosner’s debut solo album, stutters and skips before mounting into full attack. Each track that then follows increases in intensity, making the track that preceded feel timid by comparison. Sirens wail against a down-and-dirty beat that refuses to let up. The scene is a war zone, though it’s unclear whether Cosner is signaling impending doom or havoc already wrought. At no point, however, does hell break loose. Cosner’s compositions are tight, never quite spiraling out of control but instead hinting at chaos while staying within the bounds of controlled time signatures.

Cosner’s use of vocals throughout DEADTECH both augments the album’s urgency while humanizing the violence of the bass. For example, in “Rather Never,” we hear anguished outcries and in “F Real,” a panoply of vocal samples. Voices amid the bedlam. Despite this, DEADTECH is at its best in its instrumental moments. This is not to discount the vocal performances of Aaron Freeman, Rinu Rimac, or Cosner himself. It’s simply that, when the vocalists’ lyrics come into play, the record seems to lose the fine balance it strikes elsewhere between the brash and the subtle. On the one hand, DEADTECH’s industrial drones are unmistakably hard — and yet there is always this element of softness present: a twinkling bell, a curious beep or whistle. In “Spells,” Cosner reminds us of the sirens we heard earlier in the album, by introducing lower and warmer oscillating tones — and like the unshakeable memory of trauma, the memory of sirens becomes vivid, there in the sound. When, later in the LP, we hear the hard-hitting vocals of Rinu Rimac, it feels as though the lyrical content (“in this canyon, there’s an echo”) conveys something that, before that moment, had already been so skillfully and so intricately delivered — something of emptiness, desperation, and urgency. But where before there was an unexpected softness, here we hear only the hard.

Overall, what is most striking about Cosner’s LP is its sonic subversiveness — not least in the sense of subverting popular norms or of declaring revolutionary dicta — but rather a subversiveness that speaks to the album’s composition. The tracks, many of which are remarkably short, feel decidedly logical, despite the fact that they continually intermix the war-trodden with the playful. It’s the same play that goes on in the record’s title: DEADTECH/MODERNHOMES. Picture: a dead, cold world of machines, which is populated here and there by a series of homes, still with the lights on as the dark approaches. The modern home in this landscape is a ruined object, of course, but it is still, regardless, a home. There is some humanity in Cosner’s vision – some essential kernel of what is old, familiar, and warm about a lost period in human history. A period lost in the upswing of the technical, the cybercultural, the mechanical. In its instrumental moments, DEADTECH allows these contradictory elements to breathe; and in the vocal moments, it’s less clear whether the controversy remains. The record, to my ear, sounds as though it capitalizes on its own silence. (Take the tracks’ brevity, for example.) In other words, it capitalizes on its ability to leave certain things left unsaid, and left, rather, up to feeling.

“W Here,” the album’s last track, for example, is the most exemplary of Cosner’s ability to create sonic contradiction, and tension. A heavy, heavy drone heaves along with vibrant arpeggios going in the background. The drone drops in and out, though every time it drops back in, it hits the ear even harder. It is oppressive, dismal, and beautiful.