Things That Go Bloop in the Night
Rebounding from the cosmic bigness of 2010’s Hexadecagon, noisetronica experts The Octopus Project show us robots can indeed perspire with Fever Forms, the group’s fifth full-length LP. Sweet as it is serpentine, there’s no getting around the music’s honeyed and many-tiered sheets of sound, the wowing—and, in the end, tiring—equivalent of an aural cyber baklava. Yes, with each bite—or is that byte?—your inner metallic club kid, at first ravenous for every sugared morsel, with time bowls over to a party-halting truth: Sometimes shit’s too dense.
Take, for instance, opener “The Falls.” Starting well enough, its buzzing synth drums are soon joined by a spiky and pulsing guitar, later to hitch with its croaking counterpoint in a kinetic call and response. Shortly after, there’s a club-drug chorus of aahs, and, with that—like your screen filling up on a losing game of Tetris—the shapes just keep piling up. Not to be outdone, “Pyramid Kosmos” doubles down on the “busy is better” formula, bumping with a square-wave line that plays the foil to all manner of spaceship noises, as well as a “play to win” 8-bit game melody. With nowhere left to go, it climaxes with a sensory-overload vomit of digital confetti, as fast-strobing bleeps weave in and out to an overwhelming effect. The old epilepsy warning before every episode of Pokemon may find new life on Fever Forms’ album cover.
Already terse and pointy, things get more so with “The Mythical E.L.C.,” evoking a heavily-trafficked future where cars drive themselves and buildings are made of translucent crystal. Each noisy stratum, one upon the other, pulses at varying speeds, creating an air-tight weave of genetically-modified cotton candy. True, the skill shown in composing such music is impressive, but is it anything you’d want to listen to without putting on your dad’s Star Trek jumpsuit, dropping a few tabs of X and jumping off the roof of your house? Probably not.
Incidentally, Fever Forms is more effective when it’s less feverish. A clear standout is “Whitby,” a cut whose success lies in being merely caffeinated on an LP otherwise cocainated. Its mid-tempo, hip-hop drums pave a steady foundation as vocalist Yvonne Lambert intones candied niceties—when and if you can make them out. After the song’s first chorus, a backwards-tracking and almost Indian-sounding melody floats in, which—when coupled with the big drums and slow-stuttering synths—evokes an updated Cocteau Twins. (Assuming they could be “updated.”)
In the end, Fever Forms’ unwavering devotion to such a kinetic (and psychoactive) brand of dance music brings with it a big dose of shirt-soaking fatigue. Despite quality attempts at lending some balance in the rare but often exciting mid-tempo passages, the record, for all its rock-sugar sound and fury, stops just short of overheating and expiring on the dance floor. Perhaps, though, a cyber disco PSA can be gleaned from this saddening fact: There is indeed such a thing as too happy, too sweaty and too close to cardiac infarction.