:Retrowerks: Surgyn – Envy
Review by Stephen Beck Fey
When Surgyn’s first album came out in 2011 to a substantial amount of overnight buzz (at least among the people I talk to), I admit, I gave a cursory listen to a couple tracks and wrote the group off as just a flavor of the month, expecting them to fade away as quickly as they had appeared. But they didn’t.
Over a year later, I was still hearing about them constantly, to the point where it almost felt like they’d been a fixture of the scene forever. So eventually I caved and decided to try again with this Scottish dark electro duo that everybody seemed to be so crazy about.
I was initially a little put off by the sung-spoken vocals that sounded a little bit like an industrial version of Cake, but the songs were catchy enough that I bought the album anyway. Nowadays, I listen to Vanity more than anything I actually put on my “best of” list for 2011. That album had a hypnotically detached intensity that would sound just as at home blaring on a loudspeaker in a big dystopian city square as it would on the sound system at a goth club, and nothing released since then has matched it. Now, with the release of Surgyn’s second LP, something finally has.
OK, perhaps it’s not accurate to say Surgyn has “matched” Vanity, as that would imply that they’re doing largely the same thing they did on the first one. Though this is still recognizably Surgyn and a few of these tracks still fit the description of “dystopian goth club bangers,” focus is placed much more heavily on atmosphere and dynamics. Indeed, they’ve actually expanded their sound greatly with Envy. Synthpop and witch house are fused together. Lushly ominous synth lines and striking melodies share space with heavy distorted beats and harsh death growls.
Envy is an album built on contrasts. Opener (not counting the intro) “Limousine” pits a driving synth riff against a “scream from the bowels of your lungs” chorus that any melodic death metal group would be jealous of. The track immediately after it, “Green Heart,” is a melancholy synthpop track that, between the anthemic actually-sung vocals and the echo-laden production, sounds both tremendous and exceptionally pretty.
That harsh/soft dynamic is a recurring theme, from track to track, but also within songs. “King of Crows” in particular slides between melancholic prettiness and distorted metallic anger with shocking ease, slowly merging the two together. “Hollywood Death Scene” does something similar. My absolute favorite track though is “Stiletto,” which… How do I put this? In the dystopian city where Vanity gets played on loudspeakers, “Stiletto” is what the drag queens dance to. With a galloping synth line and flamboyantly strutting vocals, it is by far the most purely fun track on the album.
It would be easy for these conflicting styles and moods to come off as schizophrenic, but Envy is an almost miraculously cohesive record. The overall effect is something like a heroin-chic Erasure, or perhaps “Pet Shop Boys from hell” might be more accurate.
Probably the highest praise I can give this album is that, even after all the repetition involved in the review-writing process, I’m still excited to listen to it. I can’t remember the last album like that; even review promos I love usually require a few weeks’ break before I can really enjoy them again.
All of this is to say that Envy is a record that I enthusiastically recommend. If you haven’t listened to Surgyn yet, don’t make the mistake I made three years ago, check them out ASAP. If you have listened to Surgyn and still haven’t checked out Envy for some reason, go do that right now. It’s even better than Vanity, and that’s damn impressive.
01. Artifice (intro)
03. Green Heart
05. Feed Me Fame
07. King of Crows
10. Hollywood Death Scene
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