Light Asylum’s four-songer doesn’t slot easily into any of the current categories for synthwork. It sticks to the tones and textures of early MTV, but with a certain malevolence. Unlike the redux of the electroclashers or coldwavers, these guys aren’t stilted. The duo leaps over the top whenever they can, be it Shannon Funchess’ gruff command to “nail me to the cross, Hail Mary” or Bruno Coveillo dropping in the neighs of wild horses behind keyboard squelch.
For a danceable crew fronted by a tough and androgynous black woman, the Grace Jones comparisons are hard to shake off. It’s not fair, though. Vocally, Funchess is a much weightier presence, without the wink of camp that Jones brings to her delivery. Funchess is bluesy, possessing a wail that is disciplined and arena-sized. Like Salem (who are friends, and have done remixes for them) Light Asylum can whip up a storm. Also like Salem, the bluster is cornier than they probably intended it to be. Sawtooth waves and ball-peen tings stir up a lot of noise on “Knights and Week Ends," and Funchess shouts about beating in her brains and needing a stripper. The final effect, though, is like a Billy Idol track remixed for Danceteria. Not so intimidating, but fun in its attempt to package up intimidation.
The most interesting thing about this set is the beat used for the finale, “Skull Fuct.” It’s a beat that’s popping up more and more, though it can be traced it to the break on Donna Summer’s “Our Love.” New Order famously refashioned it for the whole of “Blue Monday.” Thump, thump, t-t-t-t-t-t-t-thump: two heartbeats followed by hits that only a machine can make. Portishead built their return single, “Machine Gun," around it, slowing it to a lament, but the sequence still has a way of kicking forward. Last year, Darkstar used it for the title track of North. Paired with a voice, the pattern creates its own irony. It’s so inherently mechanical, it’s advance so inevitable, any plea for “love to last”or “faith to return” are surely doomed by the time the song is over. Light Asylum use the setting to howl about “darkest lies” and “broken bones” over a tolling bell. Doom top to bottom. Some irony would add a second dimension. It’s hard to sense anything deeper below their scratchy surface.