Artists have been trying to say something smart about the rise of social media and its place in the world for a while now, but the results are often clunky. Some have reminisced about the good old inconvenient days (Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait”) while others have refused to see any potential benefits from people talking to one another on Twitter (David Eggers). This year, EMA entered the conversation with The Future’s Void, but her otherwise solid music was marred by awkward lyrical references to the “interwebs” and “selfies.” Just this month, Parquet Courts (or Parkay Quarts) released a song called “Content Nausea” whose message boils down to “the Internet is not good.” It’s a topic worth exploring, but one that comes with a lot of pitfalls.
Looking at the track titles on Tokyo duo Jesse Ruins’ latest album, Heartless, it appears they’re devoting their second full-length to confronting the social-media-saturated world of 2014. Songs include “She Is in Instagram”, “Forgot Your Account”, and “URL Sinking” among others, but Heartless avoids trying to make a statement in favor of capturing what a digitally soaked life is like. It’s a jarring listen, as the pair of Nobuyuki Sakuma and Naho Imajima move from lush synth-pop to aggressive dance sounds, puncturing songs with sudden vocal touches. Heartless is a work shaped by the mad pace of the Internet.
The project wasn’t originally concerned with the real world. Sakuma created Jesse Ruins in 2011 to make woozy music blurring the line between dream-pop and dance; though they remained on the edges of the Japanese scene, tracks like “Dream Analysis” caught the attention of Western music blogs and New York label Captured Tracks, who released an EP compiling their earliest songs. After releasing their debut last year on Lefse Records, though, they went in a slightly different direction. Sakuma told Japanese site Public Rhythm earlier this month that his group’s earlier material explored fantasies, while Heartless would be more conscious of the world around them.
This shift doesn’t erase all the sonic tricks Nobuyuki and Imajima have developed, though. As escapist as songs like “Dream Analysis” could get, there was also always a shadowy element lurking underneath the shine. They use one specific technique from that song—overlapping Imajima’s voice with a lower-pitched, throaty vocal—on early Heartless number “L for App”, a rumbling number that achieves further unease by repeating a second-long sound of a person moaning. Jesse Ruins’ get a lot out of voices emerging from the ether, highlighted on the skeletal “Empty TL”, wherein barely audible murmurs float in like lonely echoes.
Heartless keep you on your toes, switching between meditative and aggressive. The latter take heavy cues from Sakuma’s early interest in dance, and in cases like “Eat a Holy Monitor”, the music is squelchy acid house turned suffocating. A late run of floor-oriented cuts end up being the album’s weak point, though, as Jesse Ruins let unremarkable grooves such as “Eat a Heartless Monitor” and “Click Raw” go on too long. Heartless works best when moving frequently between styles and speed, sometimes on the same song, such as the fast-paced-but-melancholic “ILAifS” or the skittering “404nf”.
Even though it doesn’t aim for any grand statements, Heartless’ shifty nature manages to reflect a balanced view of what an online-oriented world is like. There are moments of claustrophobia and of loneliness (“Forgot Your Account” might be the saddest song to make you think of a “forgot your password?” link), and lots of hints of something more menacing lurking in the distance. Yet Jesse Ruins can also get dreamy, as on late optimistic slow burns “Truth of D” and “URL Sinking”. If Sakuma and Imajima set out to not take a hardline stance but rather reflect web-intertwined life, Heartless succeeds thanks to its multiple sonic directions, which often spill over onto one another. It makes for a multi-dimensional listen that rarely trips over itself.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1EYD3yQ