Remember the ’90s? Well, I only vaguely do. But ignore all that Britpop/Cool Britannia shit, as nationally embarrassing in the cold light of day as Diana’s funeral, and think in a more esoteric direction. Think of Coil‘s classic album Love’s Secret Domain, and the fucked-up techno they were doing back then. Do you remember? Protection certainly do, being a synth duo one half of which has worked with both Coil and Cyclobe in the past. And while they both take a turn providing vocals (although there’s also a special guest, about whom more later) the ghost of Jhonn Balance is never far away. But this is no slavish copyist bollocks; they’ve taken that vaguely-defined, liminal sound and run with it, attempting to force it into something more conventionally songlike. And with a great deal of success.The opener “Prayer” sets the tone for what will follow, all murmuring and echoes, dark and spooky. The pace picks up for the second track, “Popcycle”, a mantric and lysergic dance number which doesn’t so much shake out the cobwebs as drape them over everything. Not quite as driving as darkwave (or “goth without guitars”) or as hard-edged as industrial, it’s EBM for the languid, a shuddering, sliding rhythm section, ’90s electro-psychedelia channelled through early Depeche Mode to create something simultaneously futuristic but carrying within it the DNA of three decades of synthpop.
“Jackrabbit” is where we get our special guest star, and it’s a song that appears in two different forms on the EP. And it’s the wonderful, prolific and mercurial Little Annie, here doing something between her old Annie Anxiety stuff and her Coil collaboration, rather than her more recent fragile torch songs, stuttering, echoing beats forming the perfect backdrop over which she delivers her paranoid, agoraphobic hallucinations. And that’s on the first version, obviously labelled “final” in order to distinguish it from its partner, which is labelled “finalfinalfinalRMX”, where Protection ramp up the beats, and also the stuttering and echoing, and the whole thing sounds a lot more reminiscent of Skinny Puppy than it did before. It’s pretty epic, one of those pieces of music that contains a whole world. It’s the Bottled City Of Kandor, if Superman was actually a goth or a rivethead.But Protection have no fear of pop music either, as they prove on “I Worry If You’re Warm”, where they somehow manage to marry brash and bouncy Music For The Masses-era Depeche Mode dancepop with the fragility of an electronic Tindersticks. The obvious modern comparison would be a less aggressive Cold Cave, but I’d venture back in time and throw Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark into the mix as well. It’s lovely, like an undiscovered ’80s classic made by musicians who had themselves travelled FORWARD in time and picked up all the best influences. And drugs.
Topping it all off neatly before the return of “Jackrabbit”, “Before I Was A Man” is an actual ballad — well almost — and if I’m going to keep on being lazy and combining other acts for my descriptions, which I am, calls to mind both Soft Cell at their sleaziest and Human League at their earliest and most primitive.
It’s music as alchemy, taking well-worn influences from here and there and combining them into something completely new and rather beautiful. If you like the ’80s, or the wrong side of the ’90s, or possibly even the crazy dark future, it’s certainly worth hopping inside this electro-TARDIS.