4 out of 5
Label: Murailles Music
Produced by: Manuel Duval
So maybe half of the world’s songs are about rallying against the authority – let me just swoop up all of hardcore and punk into that pot – and the other half are love songs – gaining it; losing it; getting burned by it. But despite that commonality, there are so, so many ways to speak about these things that can make them newly relevant each time, informed by that individual’s take on a familiar feeling, and the way they speak about it.
Annie Lewandowski’s song cycle on Powerdove’s Machination – the group now boiled down to a duo, with Thomas Bonvalet adding to the fantasically weird aural palette of tones and clicks and buzzes – seems (to me) to track a relationship, and perhaps an unhealthy one. Again, not new territory, but the trance-like mantras that form Lewandowski’s lyrics, and the way the music enhances themes of obsession and “recovery” does the job of making the album incredibly poignant, and powerful. Aurally, it’s very stripped down and perhaps harsh at points, but the Powerdove twosome work vastly juxtaposing sounds – Lewandowski’s mesmerized voice; gongs of percussion or feedback; unnervingly restless keys and effects – via Manuel Duval’s masterfully cavernous mix, to produce an album that hovers in a grabbing range which verges on beauty, but seems close to breakdown at any moment.
The album starts out relatively ‘pretty,’ with the opening title track and followup Frost Broken Willow surely sad, and lyrically tracing an already troubled relationship in which the narrator might find themselves lost, but including somewhat recognizable landmarks of a song and structure. This section peaks with the album’s longest track – Someone Else. Structurally, the minimalism applied here makes sense, as it seems to be a breaking point in things, but it doesn’t feel quite as powerful and revelatory as I think it’s intended to – it’s the only point where the drone-like repetition and sparse words feel more like a concept than something to really hit the listener. The flip-side of this (rather literally on the vinyl version, starting off the B-side) is ‘Bells and Glass;’ also very minimal, but the song slowly makes changes and grows as it reaches its conclusion, just as its words may speak to some type of crucible-like emergence. This section – when the narrator is becoming “independent” by, perhaps, receding and becoming more emotionally automated – peaks with the caustic and noisy Public Oblivion, a powerful clatter of non-stop keys and hauntingly morphing phrases. Closer Menace or Breath is a relative cooldown, but still unnerving in its splashes of discordance.
I’m positive I’m butchering my analysis of Machination, but I find the room for me to do that a positive: there’s so much here to think through, even if it seems, from a top-down, an album of few words and sounds. From the first clang of distortion butting up against Annie’s vocals, though, it’s clear there’s something powerful humming throughout, enhanced by the cyclical nature of the music, and the precise application of quiet and loud.