If Jenny Hval, Human League and Fischerspooner collaborated.
It took me all of five minutes to know that I’d enjoy ‘Behind the Wall’, the debut album from Jennifer Touch. She takes all the creepy dystopia that Jenny Hval brings to electronica but gives it a twisted European cold electronica vibe. To me the sound evokes memories of Human League, The Thompson Twins and more recently, the muck-up party of Fischerspooner. By its nature, the music is cold, alien and distance. It wants to push you away. That is what makes it a must listen to fans of dystopian synth pop.
Taking the album as a whole, there are a few production and music quirks that I personally had to adjust to. Jennifer Touch likes music quiet and thin and her kick beats are the loudest part of the mix. Depending on the song, bass or twisted synths follow on and then often her vocals or melodic twinkles follow deep down in the mix. Aside from single ‘Chemistry’, most of the tracks feel thin and I was expecting some really huge sounds. Initially, that left me a little disappointed but after a few listens, it clicked that the overall vibe that Jennifer is going for isn’t wide and expansive. It is cold, calculated, malevolent and creepy. It pays to stay in the shadows here.
Instead, each song tries its best to be quiet and harsh, like the tiniest but sharpest knife in the wound. Tracks like ‘Teflon’ have maddening synth motifs that twist and bend to throw you off-kilter. There is a hint of Zola Jesus in these tracks in terms of tone if not the delivery. The synths infuse a grinding grain on you that you’ll either find rhythmic and hypnotic or underdeveloped depending on your music taste. I found them atmospheric and intriguing. Along with other fun sounds like frequency bops on ‘Supersize’ or the Marc Almond synth runs in ‘Daria’ really stand out as great additions. Even when she goes for the ethereal root with tracks like ‘Your Dawn’, it is still creepy and haunting. Jenny Hval would be proud.
The clarity and poise of the music are juxtaposed by Jennifer’s voice which changes role depending on the track. In some tracks such as ‘The Wall’, she is singing her heart out and her voice really shines. Elsewhere such as ‘I love you, lets go’ – she theatrically purrs and tries to tempt you into her den. Touch also likes to use her voice as dissonance against the music which often means she is the one causing the chaos or disillusionment in the audio. It is quite a brave step to take at times because when a song is already slim, singing atonal to what is there can take a bit of getting used to.
I do urge listeners who don’t quite gel with the sound initially to give it time. ‘Behind the Wall’ is a grower, not a shower. I spent the first few minutes loving it, then a few listens adjusting my expectations and ideas about what I thought the album would give. I had to work to get the best out of it but when it clicked, it suddenly all made sense. This is the dancefloor album for vampires and your emo techno friends. It would be perfect for a fetish party as it feels sleazy but cool. Most importantly it showed me that cold, harsh and tinny synths can make some amazing music.
Recommended track: Daria
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