French cyberpunk producer Dan Terminus was always hell bent on creating a unique, twisted soundscape that would place him on the fringes of the synthwave movement. Landing on a lot of people’s radars with his sublime 2015 release The Wrath of Code, he immediately began crafting the sequel to his hyperactive, crushing breakthrough LP, which after two years in the making has landed on the doorsteps of eager fans worldwide. And it did deliver for me, in a lot of unexpected ways.
Immediately what jumps out is what feels like a shift in songwriting. Whilst this albums’ predecessor is wildly unpredictable and can occasionally feel disjointed and awkward, Automated Refrains feels like a much more deliberate, cohesive experience, without losing Dan’s signature progressive edge. Whilst Dan isn’t afraid to take a single track into several different, intriguing directions, these motifs are left alone for longer periods to breathe and develop, before confidently and effortlessly gliding onwards to the next dystopian soundscape.
And my God, the sounds on this thing are something else. The compositions on Automated Refrains are incredibly lush, featuring gorgeous synthesized instrumentation. Yet everything is coated in a metallic tinge of harsh, left field synth patches and the sounds of snarling machinery, doused in a healthy dose of signature Dan Terminus distortion. The marriage between these two sounds lends itself perfectly to the loose concept of the album – “a world of machines who’ve been left to their own devices”. Often times it feels less like it’s a relentless machine, trying to grind the listener into the pavement, but rather like it’s painting a very vivid picture of this dystopian landscape, organic and alive, but also a habitat for cold, industrial beings whose ways are foreign to us mere humans.
The number one greatest example of these alien sounds is the “vocal” soundbytes scattered throughout the album, all performed by software meant to emulate 80’s speech synthesis programs. The often illegible, metallic voiceclips lend themselves greatly to the overall vibe of the album and offer an incredibly refreshing alternative to the typical timbres of vocoders.
And the word “vibe” is a great descriptor for Automated Refrains. It’s an album designed with a story in mind. From the moment you lay your eyes upon the mesmerizing album artwork created by Luca Carey and hit the play button, a vague idea of this far off world is implanted in your thoughts and it keeps building and materializing through the slow burning runtime of 59 minutes. And that slow burn is worth mentioning for fans of Wrath of the Code coming in for seconds. Automated Refrains greatly eases off the throttle with more mid/slow tempo tracks taking center stage. I felt the an overall lack of the ferocity that was on display on The Wrath of Code, with Dan really only ripping loose on the absolute banger – Margaritifier. Even when the tempo picked up, it didn’t feel as utterly unhinged as some of it’s predecessors. Occasionally this resulted in moments where my interest began to slip, whilst waiting for the album to pick up the pace.
However, it always managed to regain my attention and I’m happy it did. Automated Remains is a massively rewarding musical journey and a testament to the creativity and versatility of Dan Terminus. Clear out an hour from your schedule, grab a drink, get comfortable and get immersed in the experience. You won’t be disappointed.
Automated Refrains is available as a pay what you want download (also on CD and Vinyl) via Blood Music.