December 3, 2009

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Assemblage 23, Compass
Metropolis Records, Oct. 20

With 2007’s Meta, Seattle-based Assemblage 23 — in other words Tom Shear, the one-man operation who is this — seemed ready to roll over and bark at the moon like some plain-vanilla S&M goth outfit. Bullwhip beats, limp attempts at ferocity, annoying alien-invasion synths — it was all there, ready to impress the newbies and no one else. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no Bush to hate right now and we haven’t witnessed enough Wall Street cronyism to despise Obama yet (dunno what anyone’s waiting for, but that’s another article in another paper), but Shear has mellowed considerably from the time of Meta, and has, as they say, outdone himself here. Don’t get too excited; overall, there’s still just a thin line of uniqueness that separates him from electro/hardfloor/goth-techno mates like System Syn and that sort — apply fake vampire teeth and you’re in — but for much of Compass he’s looking in the direction of Philly-goth technopop. The acid test for that is how well the new stuff stacks up against your basic VNV Nation record, and with Shear’s forlorn, if cookie-cutter, kraut-dungeon-master baritone doing its cookie-cutter thing, VNV has it by a length. But the songs themselves, unless you’re looking for compelling, off-the-beaten-path sounds like VNV’s “Chrome,” stuff like that, are absolutely top of the pops in this space, with little — unlike what you get with VNV — obvious filler. Some unique noise-riffs and a weird chick singer taking half the vocal duties would put Shear where he wants to be. B+EWS