As someone who dedicated an aptly brief column to minimal wave synthesiser music, I like to think I ‘get’ minimal electronic music. My discovery of no-wave’s analogue (and largely European) offshoot coincided with another great find in LCD Soundsystem, who had, until their pantomime breakup, managed to elude me somehow. I quickly discovered that LCD’s main-man James Murphy, owns a gigantic record collection bulging with seminal electronic subgenres, including Italo-disco, Detroit techno and, naturally, minimal wave. Any and all of the classic LCD bangers are between five and 10 minutes long; they all start off slow and build to this cacophonic finale – for the most part, the lyrics are intellectually stimulating and culturally indebted, whilst the dynamic dance-music structures are thickly modulated to stop the listener from feeling the repetitions.
Factory Floor is an English group, signed to Murphy’s DFA records. One listen to their fat, analogue keyboards and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in safe hands. Their 2013 eponymous debut came spring-loaded with mad, post-punk drums (real drums), thick oscillatory pulses and percussive sampling. On 25 25, their second outing, Factory Floor retain and exercise their capacity for delicious, velveteen squelches – but the shadow of their debut’s flaws looms largest. Still, the arrangements are aggravatingly sparse, with even less structural range to tide us over; worse still, following the departure of modular-programmer Dominic Butler, the already tamed organicity of the band has vanished.
Opener Meet Me At The End is unmoving for a seemingly endless 8:27. It’s the same bass loop over and over and over again; modulation is (yes, you guessed it) minimal, but to the point of throbbing, mental stasis – the changes are so small and the repetitions so self-indulgent that the listener is quickly lost. It’s like the final frame of Minesweeper that tries to tell you where you went wrong; or the blue screen of death on old PCs, whose rows of code and a screaming blue background present a very specific brand of terror – it’s unnervingly cool, but not so cool that you’re ever inspired to find out more. In other words, this album’s long opening moment is very, very ‘meh’. 30 seconds into track two, you’ll find the formula repeats; things are much the same for the duration. At points, the synthesis of waveforms is such that you’ll get a particularly pleasing tone (the Casio-esque Morse code blips on Waves; the sharp cut-off on Upper Left). Overall though, it’s an almost terminally boring experience – when LCD Soundsystem knew how to fluctuate the business of their arrangements back in 2002, it seems a backward step for Factory Floor to brazenly ignore these ideas; if it’s for the sake of minimalism, then it’s just bloody-minded at best.
Tonality just about saves this record from being a total disaster. The Blue Monday-esque pulse of Ya, for example is pretty fun (although as another LCD-centric reviewer has pointed out, it just sounds like Yeah! with a faux German accent).
So by all means, have a listen to this record for its crystalline production and thick, modular shapes, but skim it to save time. Factory Floor have made an extremely pretentious mistake here, and it’s a shame – not least since there’s evidence to suggest better writing and honed run-times might’ve produced a pop-dance blaster. Instead, we’re left with an aggressively mundane set of loops and a whole lot of false grandeur. It’s one thing to masquerade as a band that takes aural minimalism beyond its purely textural dimensions and into the musically architectural; it’s another thing entirely, to simply take the mickey.