by Joe Thomas
Somewhere Else is an album that feels like its teetering on the brink of a boggy psychosis. Despite being a dark listen, Profligate mastermind Noah Anthony's instincts as a songwriter rarely veer towards the obvious touchstones that create straightforwardly intense music. When Somewhere Else is harrowing, it's quietly harrowing. When it does make use of all-out dissonance, it does so in a way that feels measured. Songs like "A Circle," with its incessant crunching snare and "Jet Black (King of the World)," an anxiety-glam techno-séance for Alan Vega, do contain elements of discomfort. But, by the time the songs are over, they feel necessary, borderline comforting, like a crutch you cling to when you're depressed. This record has the markers of something noisy and tense, but its songs come off not as obnoxious attempts to alienate you, but as deliberate designs to anchor a disordered mind, present in each songs' constant, throbbing pulse and the whispered mutant coos that the vocals deliver deadpan throughout.
The album opens with its title track, an eerie, late-night drive number with a bodily thud that serves as the song's kick, and recalls the meaty thwack audible on Scott Walker's "Clara". Its interjections of dissonant synth-noise and oblique lyrical references ("a shattering display/a hopeless kind of trust/kick back with chambermaid") are also "Drfit"-esque. With its subdued vocals, droning synth lines and delayed guitar, it's a song that seems to split the difference between techno and post-rock. Both have a tendency towards the long run-time and hypnotic repetition that here induce a kind of industrial-psychedelic revery by the time the song's final climactic bleeps wash over you. It's a glimpse into a grayscale void, composed both of synthetic textures and things that feel more organic.
Throughout the album, electronics are augmented by live instruments, usually a bass guitar. The flashing lurch of "Enlist" pairs busy bass fretwork with wonderful use of (something resembling) a vocoder. It's an example both of the bizarre effect that artificially modulated vocals can have in somehow making someone sound more humane, and of the way this album throws yet more dirt on the grave of the curmudgeonly adage that electronic music somehow lacks the emotional resonance of its more rock-oriented counterparts. While Anthony's jazzy noodling does veer dangerously close to irritating proggy territory in the song's breakdown, for the most part his asymmetric figures are an interesting and unconventional tether for his cold neon synths. On "Black Plate," the album's moment of true sublimation, he deploys the bass very well, reining it in just enough to give the song its nocturnal sense of bounce while remaining unpredictable. Vocals here are handled solely by new addition, vocalist/lyricist Elaine Kahn, whose words are cryptic, but evocative and literary in nature given her background as a poet.
This being an album with roots in experimental and noise music, Kahn and Anthony do have their requisite moments of art-school pretentiousness, like the coda of "Lose A Little" in which Kahn recites a dour poem over low humming synths and sticky static jolts. It's enjoyable, but on a cartoonish, Twin Peaksy level that probably isn't intentional. When their collaboration more closely hews to a traditional structure though, like on "Black Plate" or the sad, icy closer "Needle In Your Lip," the results are transportive and excellent. There is something broken-sounding and vulnerable in Kahn's voice. She sounds dead-eyed and cold without sounding bored and/or boring, a difficult thing to pull off.
Somewhere Else is dark, but inviting. A unique sense of yearning pervades in each track, alternately seething and meditative in its occasional flirtations with spooky synth-pop and its determination to let other tracks play out as expansive, amorphous grinders. It embodies a hallmark of effective music that's nominally sad or negative in that it has a strangely settling quality to it while remaining obviously borne of the darker side of human impulses and experiences, recasting them perhaps as a ballast for emotional fortitude rather than useless depression. We all have a use for that sometimes.