OMG VNV MIA WTF
Ever wanted a favorite best-kept secret finally shared with the world, only to not feel right about it soon after? Maybe it’s a great burger joint that’s suddenly not so great after they open new locations, or the consignment shop you can’t squeeze into after it gets just the right write-up. We wonder if longtime industrial fans share that situational dread on hearing new album Transnational from veteran body-music group VNV Nation. This is a singular moment when today’s pop electronica and sounds from the long-bubbling underground leave marks on each other, seemingly to the latter’s detriment.
That’s not to say that Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson have made new music that attempts to rise up from the gutter and storm the charts like, say, Calvin Harris. VNV Nation’s profile has been been pretty high within their niche anyway, at least since the professional-sounding Futureperfect came out in 2002. They hit plenty of their standard touchpoints on Transnational, all summarily entertaining: plaintive songs about technology spreading (“Teleconnect Pt. 1”) and anthropomorphizing (“Primary”), digitally distorted figurative love-or-war battles (“Retaliate”), miles and miles of their electronic arpeggios and symphonics.
And then there are the moments where they don’t—well, it’s not so much that they don’t, but VNV Nation here frequently sound unlike themselves. Or maybe it’s that a growing number of artists sound like them. Whatever the case, there’s a lot of genre transference and cross-contamination on Transnational. It’s evident from the opening two-song suite, “Generator” and “Everything” which contain enough major keys, unfiltered vocals and 4/4 drama to fit in a Pryda or David Guetta set. Other tracks feel like they should be deep album cuts to earn deadmau5 some respect, while “Lost Horizon” just begs for a mashup with The Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again.”
And therein lies the big conundrum about the album. Industrial artists have so rarely found the spotlight, but while it seems that the spotlight seems to have found VNV Nation, is it they or these far-flung contemporaries doing the imitating/flattering? Have the duo ended up in some centrist and ultimately generic portion of the dance music spectrum? What does Transnational say about the credibility and strength of their subgenre? Sure, this is electronic music, and it’ll move your body, but is it really EBM?