Beach Blanket Armageddon
Dean Clarke has charted an intriguing arc through the world of electronic music in recent years. Part of stripy hardcore outfit Ugly Nature (formerly 3D), Clarke has also done radio duties on the Bluetown Electronica show. Then there’s Brutalist Architecture in the Sun, Clarke’s separate coldwave musical endeavour.
Summed up as “analogue synths and post-punk beats”, this self-produced and self-released venture saw the All Is Grey album released back in 2015 followed by 2016’s Concrete Pop. A number of singles and EPs also emerged in the lull between albums, including the Post Democracy EPs.
Brutalist Architecture in the Sun lean towards that grey, brooding niche of electronic music that often seems purpose-built for dystopian science fiction films. Clarke’s own vocal style certainly has a striking darkwave quality to it. At the same time, the electronic musician never passes up an opportunity to collaborate with other talents (see ‘Love & Science’ from Concrete Pop, which has the polished pipes of Paul Humphries on vocal duties).
Monochrome Beach sees Clarke teaming up with regular collaborator Cye Thomas for an album that darts around with a variety of styles, yet manages to still stand as a cohesive album. In contrast to Clarke, Cye Thomas has an eerie fragility to his singing style. At times, it has hints of Bowie and at others it has a strange torch song presence.
Tracks such as opener ‘Humanise’ have a busy, frenetic composition to them lending a dark dancepop sensibility to them. ‘Peep Show’, meanwhile, has a particularly sleazy sound to it with a slightly sinister vocal driving it along.
There’s a more bass-heavy quality to ‘Glass’. Here, weighty rhythms contrast with Cye Thomas’ curiously fragile voice (“Did you ever see see me/Did you ever need me/Because all I wanted was you”).
The raw sound of Brutalist Architecture in the Sun is drawn from a strong analogue sound. For the technically minded, Clarke favours a broad range of synths, including the analogue delights of the Korg Odyssey, Moog Grandmother and Behringer Deepmind 12. But he’s also just as happy applying soft synths as part of his studio arsenal.
In practice, this results in raw synth sounds underpinned by stark percussive elements, marking out a particularly grey landscape. Despite this abject approach, the tunes still manage to have a human touch lurking beneath. The result of those contrasting elements presents a curious alchemy of sound.
A good example of this is the more melodic twist to ‘Something New’, which also showcases the impressive vocal range of Thomas’ versatile voice. While ‘Receiving Signals’, with its insistent percussion and reedy synths, has an oddly hypnotising atmosphere to it.
There’s a more brooding goth element to ‘You Are Enough’ with a sober vocal pitched against deeply layered electronics.
As if worried that things might be getting too fluffy, the chilling ‘Nuclear Sun’ opens with a sample from a public information film about an imminent nuclear strike. Despite this foreboding theme, it offers up some engaging synth melodies and another sharp turn from Thomas on vocal duties (“Is this the last place I will go/Is this the last day I will know”).
There’s a more sleazy synth quality to ‘This Black Platform’, which is contrasted by the brighter tones of following track ‘Broken Machines’. Here, a wonderful burbling synth arrangement makes the composition stand out from its darker companions.
Album closer ‘The Lost’ drops back into the gothic approach with Clarke’s isolationist lyrics (“I don’t know where we go from here”). Meanwhile, classic synth sounds and a constantly moving rhythm track drive things along.
Quite how a listener’s verdict on Monochrome Beach will turn out depends on what particular niches of electronic music that they have a penchant for. If you like your analogue synths and coldwave wonders, then Brutalist Architecture in the Sun will serve you in fine style. But there’s certainly a lot of other interesting things going on underneath that marks the album apart from any by-the-numbers darkwave outfit.
Monochrome Beach is out 23rd March and will be available via iTunes, streaming services and https://brutalistarchitectureinthesun.bandcamp.com/
Brutalist Architecture in the Sun are performing at Synthetic City 2019 on Saturday 23rd March 2019 at Water Rats, Kings Cross, London WC1X 8BZ. 2pm-1am. Tickets from: www.abnormalproductions.rocks/synthetic-city-london-2019
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.