Dark electronica punches below its weight
In a mixture of youth and experience, Chiasm and John Fryer teamed up on 2021’s Missed The Noise. But in a way, the former wouldn’t exist without the latter. Fryer, whose production credits span four decades and include work with Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, helped pioneer the dark electronic sound that Chiasm, real name Emileigh Rohn, has shaped into the modern music world.
“Working with John [Fryer] was a completely fresh experience for me that reinvigorated my passion for writing,” Rohn said.
Despite this symbiosis between the two, though, Missed The Noise misses the mark on several fronts. Rohn’s vocals are characteristically angelic and subdued, and her songwriting does feel more imaginative than before, but her voice clashes with Fryer’s production. Rohn’s vocals caress and seep into the mix, while Fryer’s mix strongarms the vocals with a rush of noise.
Fryer’s production is also uncharacteristically formulaic and drab to the point of monotony. Each track follows a similar structure; a quieter, synthy verse with soft or whispered vocals from Rohn, a massive chorus with big sound from the bass and percussion, another verse, another chorus, and an outro. There’s also a lack of emotional cadence to the music. Fryer and Rohn seldom step outside the key signature or do something unexpected.
Opener “Noise” is a good barometer of what to expect from the rest of the project. It’s got an up-tempo beat and glowing synths that provide an ’80s feel, with a plain kick and snare rhythm and unspectacular melodies. The production on the chorus is a little clunky, with too many sounds occupying the same space. It’s certainly not a bad song, but it doesn’t really push any boundaries or shock and delight.
“Frantic” is another frustrating track. It features a compelling bridge section where the beat expands and contracts with nuance, but the rest of the song sounds just like Missed The Noise’s other offerings. The listener is tempted with a smattering of exciting rhythms and sounds, only for the mix to revert back to an overenthusiastic chorus.
In the same vein, “Are You Okay?” offers a glimpse of where Chiasm’s vocals might fit best before pulling the rug out from under you. The track has a subdued, calm-before-the-storm mood, less bombastic and more creeping, which suits Rohn’s soft and brooding vocals. But right away, “Intertwined” and “Calling” bring the listener back to the standard, unspectacular sound of the rest of the album.
Later on, “Yours” creates a chic sound that also fits well with Rohn’s voice, but these moments of harmony are too few and far between, as the next three tracks once again mix her vocals with Fryer’s indomitable choruses.
In a rather pleasant surprise, though, closing track “Gone” sounds like a far cry from the other ten tracks. Its sound can only be described as ethereal. Gorgeous vocal harmonies, euphoric, muddled guitar chords and swirling synthesizers create a woozy mix bereft of the huge bass and kicks to which the listener has grown so accustomed. There’s a palpable sense of longing evident from Rohn’s delivery and the bright, washed-out instrumental.
If the rest of Missed The Noise sounded closer to its closing track, then the Chiasm-Fryer union might have had more success. But as it is, their partnership leaves much to be desired. Fryer’s instrumentals lack creativity and gall, and their bombastic sound doesn’t exactly gel with Rohn’s feathery vocals. There are moments of promise on the project, but they’re too few and far between.