Announcing its arrival in a trill of shimmering digital FX and a pounding rhythm, the second instalment of K-X-P‘s third album heaves into audibility with all the bombast and finely-tuned ear for a hook which the band have perfected over their last few releases.
III‘s two parts make a lot of sense when considered together, especially as they were recorded at the same session in the seclusion of the fortified island of Suomenlinna, a boat-ride away from the bustling metropolis of Helsinki. It’s quite fun to mix tracks from each disc up in a playlist too, though they work equally well one after another.Opening track “Winner” pretty much sums the second album’s attitude up, all rollicking and roiling with some gristly fuzz sliding among the twin-drum action like the electricity itself wants to get in on the act; and from then on it things can only get more glam, more electro-punk and more than a little new wave. It’s no wonder that the band talk reverently of Seventies Sheffield with reference to Part II as much as their previous releases have revelled in reinterpretations of Detroit techno, Düsseldorf motorik grooves and intergalactic prog, and there’s a smidgen of extended shoulder padding and immense drumkits present among the Cabs-style mordant electronica here too.
That autobahn aesthetic is brought to the fore once again on “Freeway” (of course), but while Timo Kaukolampi sings in his far-away voice the the “Freeway of mine/Is so sublime”, he does so now with a sense of loss and anguish which Kraftwerk might once have hinted knowingly at, but is foregrounded here. Part II reflects on how last few decades of an encroaching, actual globe-spanning dystopia — rather than merely wondering what it would be like to live in one, leather trousers and all — has transposed the utopian electronic dreams of the Seventies into an ever-nearer future of corrupted nightmares populated with autonomous robots unbound by Asimov‘s laws — of which more later. If this song seems more than a little Mad Max in the era of the (pre-?)post-apocalyptic reboot, then that’s also appropriate to K-X-P’s mood on this part of the album, providing a doomier counterpoint to Part One‘s soaringly Mellotronic stomper “Space Precious Time”.If K-X-P are channelling the one-two thump of The Glitter Band on both tracks, then they’re also doing so in the full and certain knowledge that the latter goup’s former singer is now a pariah of a very modern sort. Even the apparently safe and stable certainties of past pop-cultural heroes have to be treated as some sort of graveyard of reputations as much as it might be the playground of influence — and that the musical bricoleur‘s (creator and listener alike) raids on past music are all too-often suffused with a knowledge of a darkness that is no longer merely there for effect. Where Part One was upbeat, spaced-out and infectiously groovy on occasion, Part II is more likely to bristle with a passion that flickers and fries out of the speakers in shards of fed-back whammy bar action and an urgent variation on the relentless beat. This is frequently dished out with a martial stomp, as on the organ-frazzled “Sub Goblin”, where the album allows itself a instrumental breather from the brittleness. The rising electronic orchestrations of “Siren” bring in a heavyweight brutalist charge, its drone warfare subject matter hissed out with a vocoded menace that lies somewhere between Skinny Puppyish vitriol at the military-industrial complex and Laibach‘s knowing repurposing of the propaganda state’s overblown pomposity, somehow tied together with an anguish redolent of Ultravox at their most pop-operatic.
It’s on the final descent into the their grand finale that K-X-P complete the closing of the circle of III Parts One and II. Where the former’s opener “Psychic Hibernation” suggested brighter things to come, so the latter closes on a more sombre, thoughtful note. The incendiary workout of “Air Burial” lays the groundwork for the brooding arpeggiated outro of “Transuranic Heavy Elements” — surely a Sapphire and Steel reference — in a pulsating synthesized coda that unfolds with all the stately grandeur of implacable planetary motion. Almost inevitably, everything burns out (which it is, as Freddy Mercury told the world on the Highlander soundtrack in the Eighties and Kurt Cobain wrote in his suicide note the next decade, supposedly far better to do than to fade away) with what one might assume is the sound of a black sun imploding.