Ex-Depeche Mode member gets back into the game with an experimental new release
For many musical artists, COVID-19 has provided an excuse to refine their craft, and we’ve seen some colossal efforts over the last calendar year. 2020 saw exciting new releases from Dua Lipa, Phoebe Bridgers, Perfume Genius and many, many more. Now, Martin Gore is adding his name to that list in early 2021.
After a few years of enjoying the silence, so to speak, the former Depeche Mode keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter has returned in 2021 with his third solo effort, The Third Chimpanzee EP. The EP comes after 2015’s MG, which updated listeners on where Gore’s musical brain has been at in recent years. The Third Chimpanzee pulls from some of MG’s electronic influences, but Gore’s 2021 release is far less palatable and far more risky, a far cry from the brooding disco sounds of Depeche Mode.
The Third Chimpanzee opens with an extremely grainy and harsh synth on “Howler” that sets the tone for the rest of the record. The song is a masterclass in sound design, as Gore tinkers with harsh, disjointed and sudden sounds that sound almost impossible to create. A loose beat with some glitchy hi hats moves things forward as the song plods and jitters along, culminating in an epic synth fanfare that announces the EP’s arrival.
The following track “Mandrill” ratchets up the industrial sound and intensity. A grainy womp bass and lofi percussion create a harsh sonic landscape that’s permeated by a searing guitar riff, a computerized techno synth and some heavily distorted white noise. The combination of echoey effects and a deep bass creates a feeling of waywardness, as if people have stumbled upon something they weren’t supposed to see, and the song sounds downright sinister by its conclusion.
“Capuchin” continues the theme of wonky, industrial noise, as some detuned digitized beeps are joined by a steady kick and an interjecting bass that sounds like it’s fighting its way into the conversation. There’s an element of call and response here between the high and low frequency instruments, and the track eventually evolves into an eerie march. However, the track lacks a defined groove and often feels messy or jumbled, and not in a good way.
The opening trio of tunes eventually lead to the eight-and-a-half minute opus “Vervet,” which feels like a bit of a letdown for the crux of an EP. While it builds and dissipates smoothly and steadily, it lacks the emphatic sound that the opening track (and the closing track) had. Gore messes with the panning on this one, creating a cool unbalanced feeling, and the track is packed with nuance between every beat, but it ends up overstaying its welcome and lacks an emotional punch.
Things come to an understated close on “Howler’s End.” The brief, two-minute track consists of a series of warm, emphatic synthesizer hits that play a repeating melody, eventually joined by the subtle buzzing of a sea of reverberating sounds in the background. Although simple, the track puts a bow on the EP, tying things up with the fanfare sound that was heard on its predecessor “Howler.”
Gore may have been out of the game for a few years, but he’s still playing it like a pro, at least from a technical standpoint. The Third Chimpanzee offers up some memorable and novel sounds, and sometimes, Gore is able to pull everything together into a deeply moody or brooding track. But other times, Gore struggles to fill his passages with direction, occasionally resulting in a muddled or monotonous sound.