Acoustic warmth, electronic sex and emotional strength
In 1996, SNEAKER PIMPS released the highly acclaimed ‘Becoming X’ featuring its original line-up of Kelli Ali, Liam Howe and Chris Corner. Tensions led to the departure of Kelli Ali as Chris Corner took on vocal duties for the following albums ‘Splinter’ and ‘Bloodsport’. The title of that debut turned out to be prophetic as following the end of SNEAKER PIMPS, Corner relocated to Berlin where he found “the spirit to care less about the music industry and take an independent route” as IAMX and delivered the impressive debut ‘Kiss + Swallow’.
Now IAMX returns with ‘The Unified Field’, an album which sees Corner attain even greater independence through crowd funding forum Pledge Music while almost paradoxically, involving others in the actual musical realisation. Corner told fans to expect “a new kind of IAMX sound, full of acoustic warmth, electronic sex and an emotional strength that can only come from collaboration”. Following the intense experimentation and loneliness of its predecessor ‘Volatile Times’, there is no doubt that light has been let into proceedings with the recording being overseen by Grammy Award winner Jim Abbiss who co-produced ‘Becoming X’ and whose other credits have included LADYTRON and KASABIAN. Meanwhile, Liam Howe also appears on several tracks along with long standing IAMX live band members Alberto Alvarez and Janine Gezang.
Indeed it is Gezang’s dulcet Germanic tones that start off ‘The Unified Field’ with the blistering ‘I Come With Knives’. Like a thunderstorm, tension can be released but dark clouds often remain. Here Corner delivers an embittered but accessible diatribe dressed with chilling dulcimer and frantic motorik percussion. He then goes back to working alone on the wonderfully chromatic ‘Sorrow’ with sombre synth brass tones counterpointing the Slavic sensed melody. Harking back to the best moments of previous albums ‘Kingdom Of Welcome Addiction’ and ‘The Alternative’, IAMX is again penetrating the sensitivities of the European psyche.
After the organic rhythm construction of the opening two numbers, ‘The Unified Field’ title track takes on a more mechanical stance but is kept emotively human by tinkling piano and Corner’s distinctive voice although that then takes on some unsettling Mezzo-soprano overtones. ‘The Adrenalin Room’ is more experimental, dub bass set to stuttering drums and fuzzy synths like a gothic PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED with even more schizo high pitched voicing. ‘Quiet The Mind’ takes the pace down with some gentle guitar in a richly beautiful ballad that blends acoustic and electronic instrumentation. “Hold back the melancholy – hold back the fear…” Corner almost cries. ‘Under Atomic Skies’ and ‘Screams’ are worthy second cousins and mention must be made here of producer Jim Abbiss. As well creating a suitably powerful sound palette for the grittier tracks on ‘The Unified Field’, Abbiss’ treatment of the more pastoral compositions is both sympathetic and complimentary.
Some marvellous strings by Florentin Chiran give ‘Come Home’ an eerie nomadic atmosphere but the inclusion of a lone drum machine and an ancient valve oscillator for the solo are key indicators that this has been recorded post-20th Century rather than an era prior to it. ‘Animal Impulses’ and its detuned synth effects get an unusual lift via a digital drum machine while a brass section and shrilly recorder also get in on the act; this is a quite unorthodox number which switches time signature on several occasions during its four minute duration.
It all rocks out again on ‘Walk With The Noise’ which is could be considered classic IAMX but then comes one of the highlights in the rousingly bohemian ‘Land Of Broken Promises’. A great blend of acoustic guitar and treated piano is boosted with the bonus of Corner and Gezang duetting. A terrific violin solo from Florentin Chiran then ensues for that authentic sense of vagabond adventure. The almost mournful ‘Trials’ makes a suitable closer, building to the anticipated dramatic climax with bouts of even more dulcimer, droning synth sweeps and some spirited falsetto like BEE GEES gone Emo! At times, it even sounds a bit U2 but far less over blown!
In addition to the IAMX faithful who will love ‘The Unified Field’, followers of MARC ALMOND, NINE INCH NAILS MESH and DEPECHE MODE who have not been previously acquainted with Chris Corner may also find much to appreciate on this album. Despite its darkness and feelings of unsettlement, this is a melodic body of work that invites attachment and eternal love, but with staunchly fierce independence.
Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th March 2013