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Gate - A Republic of Sadness

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Artist: Gate

Album: A Republic of Sadness

Label: Ba Da Bing

Review date: Aug. 2, 2010

After more than a decade, Michael Morley of The Dead C has revived his ongoing side project, Gate. On A Republic of Sadness, Morley explores a sort of dronetronica, mixing shifting plates of synthetic sounds over simple electronic rhythms. The six songs, all over 6 minutes long, will surprise longtime followers of Morley’s work — the album bears little resemblance to The Dew Line or any of his other material from the 1990s.

Gone are the fuzzed-out guitars and amplifier hum, replaced by melancholy string sounds and floating synths. Gone is the rough, defiantly lo-fi aesthetic; instead, Morley embraces more explicitly modern textures and rhythms. The songs here remain far from polished in the traditional sense, but the use of electronic beats and synths distinguishes this album from any Gate release.

Amid the looping synths and repetitive beats, Morley’s vocals often stick out, and not always for the best. On the opening "Forever," his moaning voice is rendered unintelligible by huge reverb, while on "All" the vocals are simultaneously dry and up front, yet barely discernable. Elsewhere, as on "Wilderness,” they’re loud enough to take center stage, but never rise above abstract moans, like hearing your neighbor’s complaints through the wall. At first it can be a little distracting, but as the songs progress, the vocals become another trance-inducing texture.

When Morley’s voice shifts to the forefront, the songs don’t necessarily benefit. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the album, "Desert" opens with a startling, envelope-filtered guitar lick. And when the bass and drums kick in and the funk takes over…well, all bets are off. It’s good fun, but the vocals simply don’t work. Off-key and pumped up, they’re a distraction.

With a sort of primal drum ‘n’ bass rhythm and a nice dose of synth roughage, "Freak" is a stand out, while "Trees,” the longest track here, closes with a clanking beat and waves of synth. It’s a majestic piece and neatly encapsulates both the strengths and weaknesses of the album: it’s pleasant, and quite hypnotic, but the lack of development can’t help but be felt. None of the songs on the album undergo much if any change, and considering the average duration, that’s not a good thing.

As much as it is a pleasure to hear Morley move in a new direction, A Republic of Sadness feels somehow incomplete, as if the songs were still waiting to be whittled into their final forms.

By Mason Jones

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