A Suspended State of Rhapsodic Detachment – Dunedin band Elan Vital’s debut “Shadow Self”

Elan Vital
Shadow Self
Fishrider / Occultation Recordings

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Emerging from the same former-pharmaceutical-factory-turned-artist-run creative hive as Death and the Maiden (None Gallery in Dunedin), Èlan Vital exhibit similar dystopian impulses, if a tad more ominous in their range of automated soundscapes. Giving the credible impression that they’ve found a way to plug in to and monitor – and in the process intimately empathize with – a robotic emotionality, the seven tracks on debut Shadow Self, released in March on local label Fishrider and out just now on sister UK label Occultation, leaves one in a kind of suspended state of rhapsodic detachment.

Like one of Kraftwerk’s stylistically petulant students mixing it up in the digital trenches with errant John Foxx protogés, the trio (Renee Barrnace, Danny Brady, Nikolai Sim) operate in that rarefied territory between a machine-mitigated sentience and the very human yearning that seems to pull with resistance inside our devices against a Blade Runnered, chip-implanted world even as it fully engages with it. That tension between submitting to the structured programmatic and subverting it from within – thereby, one hopes, wresting free a sense of one’s own destiny – animates throughout.

The eerie burgeoning glow of the title track opening the album, a calliope’d swirl of a horror house keyboard floating above a deep bass-y bed of heartbeat drum machine and the squelching menace of a hovering synth, a disembodied treated vocal caught in between, “Hologram”‘s mutated sub-Moroderism, which it shares with the track that follows it, “Possession,” though where the former opts for a more expansive, Venusian neon feel, the latter goes for something of a futuristic factory-floor groove; the auto-hypnotic tranciness of “Albtraum” that could well be the sonic textbook definition of a state of consciousness called ‘dreamy nightmare,’ Renee’s delicately steady, dead-eyed vocals an anchor amid a sea of synth disorientation, lurid rolling fuzz rhythms, and an oddly disembodied Kafkaesque popsike organ, everything here is built on a beguiling dichotomy, on the illusion of disillusion, if you will, a platform on which identity and the incremental deletion of same are in a stand-off dalliance with each other, making this short but riveting – and melody abundant –  record quite possibly 2017’s most accurately named release.

[for proof of all we said, check out album closer “Dreams”]