Figure Study / Max + Mara :: Double review (Dark Entries)

The temperature may be dropping but this hasn’t hindered Dark Entries productivity. Josh Cheon’s fervent release rate is being maintained with two LPs from two contemporary US bands.

Figure Study recently graced DE with a 7” precursor to their self-titled first album. The ice-like fingers of Winter grip. “Answers” drips contracted chords. Clips beats are finally met by warming strings while emptied vocals breathe with lost emotion. Feeling is pared back for “Wait.” Synths and string arc across almost dead pan lyrics for a superb piece of modern Wave. Autumnal moods drift across the album but there is a sheen coldness that dominates. The sharp bars of “Paralyzed” juxtaposed by deep and throaty vocals. The immediate comparison, one I raised before, is Xeno and Oaklander. The composition is strikingly similar. Tempos are generally lower than X&O but that innate ability to paint with frosty analogue bars is uncanny. One difference between the two groups is Figure Study’s somewhat chillier aspect, the estranging, refrigeration and dissociation of Electro stalking throughout. “Untitled” sees bpms rise for a beautifully fragile work. Bleakness is never far from the content, “Invisible” lamenting the futility of it all while “Window” dabs in lonesome Industrial shades. The quality across the album is superb, each piece exploring a slightly different avenue with the production and overall result being twelve pieces of incredible Minimal Synth.

Another modern outfit are given the LP treatment. Max + Mara are an Oakland based duo who introduce their sound with Less Ness. Hollowed vocals and a terse temperament characterise “Hands.” Arpeggios rumble for “No One” as vocodors are employed to amplify distance. Synth lines are warm but cold gusts and chilling lyrics, alongside staccato rhythm patterns, maintain a level of alienation. Lost love and forgotten feelings are exhaled, smouldering vocals bolstered by dark mechanics. “Unseen” looks at the cyclical nature of modern society, the misplaced promises of the political class and the lack of safety net for the under-privileged. An unhappiness with the life hand dealt is part and parcel of Max + Mara’s sound, perhaps summed up in “Concrete Lines.” The closer espousing a hope to escape, a chance to change and find a way out of the lines of life.

With the quality laid down by the past masters of Synth Wave it can be pretty easy to overlook today’s angst ridden analogue musicians. Figure Study and Max + Mara extend the original themes explored by the likes of Heaven 17 and The Human League. Now it is not the possible electrification of life, or the coming of the nuclear age which is central; now it is man’s place in that once predicted society.

Both releases are available on Dark Entries.

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