The music industry’s having a rough go. Duh. The long-player as a format is bleeding relevancy, traditional methods of distribution are being brushed aside, and the proliferation of the blog has reduced the requisite 15 minutes of fame to maybe half that, if your remix is hot enough. To that point evidence abounds, to tiresome extent. And here’s some more! Modular Records is going broke. It’s maybe the most darkly cool label among the mid-majors, but don’t let that fool you. With reported losses in the millions for last year, it’s proof you can curate some of the most interesting pop bands of the moment, like Cut Copy and New Young Pony Club, and still be virtual street rats.
In light of the above there’s an excellent contextual case for the most recent Presets project, Apocalypso, as some sort of album-of-the-year, if that term hadn’t lost all meaning. First of all it’s an album in the Joe Biden sense (literally, literally), having all the necessary pivots between mood and consequence, with songs spaced at point and counterpoint for maximum absorbency. No strangers to the blogs, Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes could have released “My People,” the first single, as they did and coasted on the remixes or whatever commissions and gratuitous knob-twiddling the Vice-handlers begged them to do. What they did was add “My People” to a stellar list of bob-and-weave bangers and halogen-lit showpieces for the hottest record of the spring, summer, and fall, remixed or otherwise. `Preset’ might be another word for `default’ but Apocalypso is anything but.
You can retrace their trajectory from French touch or even, if you’re up for it, space disco. But the Presets ultimately evoke Depeche Mode. Labelmates Cut Copy wrote a faultless approximation of “Enjoy The Silence” with “Out There On The Ice” earlier this year but with the Presets the celebration’s blacker. Sonically there’s the same thunder as the first Depeche Mode records, the way they were miked and trip-wired to make Dave Gahan sound like he’s bursting out of your chest. Apocalypso‘s perfectly-tailored drums and booming atmospherics sound large on any system.
Having said that, The Presets are as smart as they are edgy. They wear their references without wearing them out. “My People” would almost be a “Song 2”-type stadium jam if it didn’t illustrate, perhaps accidentally, the perfect claustrophobia of the all-night dancefloor. (“I’m here with all of my people/ Locked up with all of my people/ So let me hear you scream if you’re with me“). The oft-remixed “Talk Like That” opens with a scary shiver of mice-haunted pipe-organ, then fades to a minimal techno-ish lope. “A New Sky” executes a similar feint, evoking “Blue Light” Bloc Party in its first 30 seconds before gunning for the digital love disco–Hamilton and Moyes don’t owe Daft Punk any more than anyone else in the reconstituted-electro game but “A New Sky” is a nice dip. “Eucalyptus” sounds like the agreed-upon disagreement between the NIN and Faint fanbases, only with more fuzzed-out bass than bloodshed. “Together” is cheesed-out Wurlitzer house, complete with big shredded stuttered vox and lyrics to match (“baby I will wait for you/ and we will be together forever“) I should note here that if this is the closest Apocalypso comes to a bathroom-break, it’s worth waiting in line for.
“This Boy’s In Love,” meanwhile, which I’m officially endorsing for single of the year, pulses with beautiful melancholy; Lifelike’s remix, in particular, coats it in a shimmering high-neon thrill. On the album itself it’s a crushed valentine from Hamilton and Moyes to high-80s melodrama, or maybe to a sort of aggrieved sexual silence. I can’t prove it’s too beautiful for words but_____.
Video: “This Boy’s In Love”