Brad Rose is best known for dabbling in ominous sonic abstraction as the primary architect behind The North Sea’s electronic doomscapes. On his most recent effort, Bloodlines, his burbling electronic noise compositions made for some of the most terrifying music of the year, albeit some of the most intriguing as well. So given his résumé, Rose seems an unlikely candidate for writing and producing pop music. Yet in Altar Eagle, the duo comprising Rose and his wife Eden Hemming, that’s precisely what he does. And this is not some mutant facsimile of pop, but actual pretty, electronic pop songs, with vocals, choruses and melodies. Noise terror, this ain’t.
The duo’s debut album, Mechanical Gardens, puts Rose’s music in an entirely different context, yet the sheer beauty and gauzy sound of the compositions is such that, were one unaware of his background, the sheer idea of a noise/ambient pedigree would never even enter the mind. An electro-pop odyssey with not-so-subtle shades of shoegazer and dream pop, Mechanical Gardens recalls the likes of Slowdive, Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine in its dense strata of synthesized fuzz. Further cementing the comparisons is Hemming’s soft, ethereal vocals, elegantly floating amidst the whimsical melodies of “You Lost Your Neon Haze” and the cosmic squelch of “Battlegrounds.”
An odd kind of transformation happens mid-way through the album, however. While “B’nai B’rith Girls” submerges the listener into a soft and bubbling ambience, the next track, “Monsters” soars straightaway into a sleek techno bounce. What begisn as softly psychedelic dream pop quickly gains momentum, and Mechanical Gardens, all of a sudden, is vibrant and thrilling dancefloor fodder. Even cooler is the distorted throb of “Spy Movie,” its vocal effects and darkly sexy grooves reminiscent of The Knife. But “Breakdown” takes the tempo back down into a more ambient, yet accessible space, not unlike recent work by Emeralds.
Rose and Hemming cover a lot of ground on Mechanical Gardens, sending their music into almost as many directions as the album has tracks. Yet there’s an exciting flow to the album that leaves the listener giddy to hear each new shift and variation. That Brad Rose ordinarily spends his time crafting sonic endurance tests for subterranean dwellers (and I mean that in the best fucking way) seems irrelevant. This is pop music, without qualification.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.