It is strange to have to overcome the promises in your head before getting to the record actually playing in front of you. Editors set a number of intriguing hurdles in their path for their new album EBM. For instance, it is the first record with Blanck Mass as a full-time member of the group, Benjamin John Power having collaborated with the group previously to somewhat fruitful ends. This attaches similar anticipations onto this record as were on The Blanck Mass Sessions which we reviewed a few years ago, but only notched up; that previous record, after all, was just a collaboration, while this is an integrated band effort. Then there is the title of the record, name-checking a genre more associated, at least to me, with groups like Wumpscut and VNV Nation than Editors particularly melodic indie rock-infused approach to Interpol-styled post-punk. Then, finally, is the eye catching cover, which leans away from the dreamlike liminal spaces of their earlier works for something more strident, definite but elliptically undefinable. As a longtime Godel, Escher, Bach fan, the particular design touches a softspot in my heart I doubt the group intended.
All of which produces the frustration I gestured to before. Much like on The Blanck Mass Sessions, this is not the menacing industrial-driven record threatened by all these factoids. It is, resolutely, an Editors album, albeit one that accepts into its flesh what otherwise would have been remaindered to remixes, allowing Power to lace the backbeats and bass-frequency dance elements of this group with added grit and oomph. There is a part of me that is resentful of this record. We have seen the members of AFI spend the past 15 years chasing a similar sonic fusion not only in their own work but also in spin-off group Blaqk Audio to resolute success, not to mention the coldwave resurgence driven in part by the critical accolades of groups such as Drab Majesty. It baits the hook, so to speak. You see certain elements converge, know that these people have collaborated before and assume, or at least I assumed, that bringing someone deeper into the band would give them a good bit more control than what is shown here.
But all of that prelude is to eventually arrive at this position: those are critiques of a hypothetical album, the one I picture when I hear “Blanck Mass plus Editors” which, even in that format, clearly privileges the former and not the latter even though these relations are clearly in reverse. This is all a long way to say that your first few listens to this record may be like mine, sitting and squirming in angst, waiting for the distorted wails and something between HEALTH and NIN to start ripping through your speakers. But that’s not Editors. It isn’t and it never has been. The slightly naff lyrics are still here, delivered by a vocalist that thankfully is talented enough in both delivery and melodic choice to keep you singing along despite the occasional indie rock ambiguity of these necessarily emotional lyrics. The musical bed, once you relinquish your predispositions and suppositions, draws in pieces from groups as far afield as the Cure, U2, the dancier end of coldwave and New Romantic acts, intermingled with the slightly artsy but not quite art house post-punk Editors was known for. There are even in glimpses an almost Kate Bush keening female vocal, something always pleasant to these ears. The soundscape here is certainly a bit wider, deeper; having a production-minded figure in the band has done wonders to give their work more space in the mix, making it sound absolutely huge, a necessity for this kind of post-Depeche Mode music.
This music is not meant to reinvent the wheel, but to be fair to the group, none of their records have had that intention. These guys have always been the poppy end of the arthouse, wanting to grab textures but affix them to far more approachable moods. On that mark, this record is a success; there’s little doubt that you could play this for a room full of people that are not yet intimately acquainted with the decades of history of noise, aleatoric music, the avant-garde and conservatory wings of jazz or any of that stuff and still find them dancing, bobbing their head, tapping their foot, humming along. Editors has a knack for making songs that get stuck in your head after one listen and that you know the lyrics to before that even, a trait maintained here. It’s a pleasant surprise and pleasant hour or so for anyone who presses play on it, and that’s not nothing. I just hope they take the brave step to drive a bit deeper into the avant-garde next time.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.