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Supersystem - Always Never Again

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Artist: Supersystem

Album: Always Never Again

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: May. 3, 2005

New name, new label, slightly different sound. Supersystem, formerly El Guapo, released two albums on Dischord before jumping over to Touch & Go and releasing the “Born into the World / Defcon” single earlier this year and now a full-length album, Always Never Again. During its Dischord days, El Guapo was more of an experimental outfit, playing post-rock with marginal electronic touches. Supersystem, on the other hand, moves the electronic influences front and center. What we get on Always Never Again is another instance of dance-punk, that awkward hybrid. I really can’t say precisely where Supersystem sits on the grayscale between dance and punk. Their songs lack the rough edges that would earn them comparisons to the obvious new wave points of reference, like Gang of Four. At the same time, their compositions aren’t as daring or as innovative as the best dance music; the members of Supersystem underplay their own musical prowess, giving the album a tossed-off, DIY feel. Since it’s neither here nor there – neither a guitar album nor a synth album, and neither punk nor dance – Always Never Again is a transitional album, the product of a band still moving from one style to another, laden with possibilities and frustrating.

Dance-punk is an awkward label because it manages to capture so many disparate efforts. When done well – think Out Hud’s S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. – an album successfully encapsulates so many different styles that it transcends those sorts of gimmicky labels. When done poorly – think the Rapture’s Echoes – it just sounds like bad dance music, and sounds all the worse for being dressed up in a lot of principled talk of resurrecting an earlier era. The difference, I’ll suggest, lies in whether a band really wants to draw parallels between different genres, or whether it just wants to get people on the floor.

Always Never Again has both sides of that particular dynamic. The first half sounds like a band having fun by playing dance music. Opener “Born into the World” consists of a series of singsong choruses and a looped bass line, and it never goes in any particular direction. “Defcon” is just a thin synthesizer and some half-sung, half-shouted vocals. The lyrics are just bland political innuendo: “Defcon goes one through five, so we can know when to run and hide, NORAD is where we go to get away.” All fairly disposable, and if you’re not actually dancing, the only amusement is wondering how drummer Joshua Blair kept up the beat. The second half has slightly more promise. “Miracle” works the synthesizer around a complicated guitar figure. “1977” represents their best link with El Guapo, as it builds in instrumental and vocal breaks, and as the title suggests, is the closest thing to a fleshed-out punk song on the album.

Always Never Again doesn’t really work, though, and only because it’s impossible to listen to it without wondering where Supersystem is going with this. Presumably, the name change and the label change were part of some bigger change in direction for the band. It would be a shame to think that the change was just to MOR dance-punk, because it doesn’t have to be. The potential is here in songs like “1977,” songs with a certain degree of complexity and innovation that represent a sizable leap forward from El Guapo. Hopefully the next Supersystem album goes beyond beats and synth lines.

By Tom Zimpleman

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