Airick Woodhead is tired. His voice dances and slinks around his glitch-y productions, but paranoia and insomnia are the themes he devours. His world is quickly decaying into fridge buzz and the dull glow of broken lightbulbs. As the title suggests, The Air Conditioned Nightmare details a Philip K. Dick-ish end of the world, where technology finally becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Woodhead sends dispatches from here, surrounded by landfills, broken VHS tapes and some of the most engrossing electronic music 2015 has to offer.

Woodhead’s Doldrums project was the oddball in a class of weirdos, coming out around the same time that fellow Montreal-based groups Grimes and Majical Cloudz started buzzing with hype. While Grimes employed feminist ideals in her pop and Majical Cloudz compared their lovers to bugs, Doldrums created acidic and fractured stuff, like Animal Collective trapped in a perpetual acid flash back. His debut, Lesser Evil, was infectious, but in a way that brought in connotations of deadly viruses. Lead single “Anomaly” exemplified Woodhead’s craft, a danceable track that rode a drone of moaning voices and not-quite-right vocals, liable to get the skin crawling. That, in part, came from Woodhead’s voice, a truly odd, androgynous thing that sounded utterly alien in the haze of Lesser Evil.

Woodhead’s cleaned up his act for The Air Conditioned Nightmare, but it’s only to reveal further horrors that Lesser Evil’s mist hid. There are occasional moments here that could be mistaken for straightforward dance tracks, but Woodhead gleefully shatters those illusions with torrents of clattering percussion and singing imagery of the end of times: the golden synth precession that opens “Funeral For Lightning” is quickly interrupted by wayward keyboard lines, while the twitchy and catchy melody of “Loops” has Woodhead singing about being caught in vicious cycles, slowly turning him mad.

The Air Conditioned Nightmare is influenced by the Henry Miller penned book of the same name. Miller’s novel was written in 1939, after ten years abroad from the States. Miller’s observations on capitalistic poison seep into Doldrums’ work. Despite the Miller homage and Woodhead’s tech-savviness, the titular nightmare seems to come from a technological era somewhere between Miller and the modern. There’s a good deal of shimmering ‘80s synth work here, but the ‘80s/’90s vibe that Doldrums conjures up comes more from the general themes of the album. The video of “Video Hostage,” despite Woodhead cooing “a million views,” seems to come from the VHS era, when Faces of Death was contraband, not a simple click away. It’s certainly helped by the creeping horror synth that binds the song together. “Industry City,” with its wonky logic and sudden burst of crystalline chords in the chorus harkens back to a darker age of techno.

If it isn’t obvious, The Air Conditioned Nightmare feeds off of contradictions. Woodhead delights in an alternating sugar/acid combination. There’s no mistaking the fact that he’s made some of his most danceable and most beautiful songs yet. In the danceable category comes “HOTFOOT,” which clashes and clatters like a warehouse full of Zildjian cymbals, while album centerpiece “Loops” hovers along at a jittery pace that injects the delectable synth stabs with propulsive energy. “Loops” might be Doldrums’ finest song yet, the perfect ying-yang balance between his pop tendencies and destructive habits. Despite the excellence of “Loops,” it’s far from the most gorgeous thing on The Air Conditioned Nightmare. It’s hard to tell what is, though, given the tranquil wake of “Funeral for Lightning,” the pop hymn “Closer 2 U” or the revelatory eeriness of “Video Hostage.”

But even the beauty is cracked and fractured, reflecting the shattered mindset of its creator. The opening duo of “HOTFOOT” and “Blow Away” is the clearest and most disturbing window into Woodhead’s mind. “HOTFOOT” has him cooing about “cocaine vampires” and the opening, apathy laden declaration of “I’m sleeping in/ in the age of unrest,” even screeching in a slight southern accent as he describes himself sinking into putrid mud (a nice nod to this hallucinatory video). “Blow Away” holds an off-kilter melody line that staggers along as Woodhead details a toxic and crumbling relationship in that aforementioned “age of unrest,” where the closest he can get to romantic is “You are the one I wanna watch TV with.”

“Video Hostage” and “Loops” are nicely placed together, as they hold the album together. “Loops” is, undoubtedly, the energetic center point, but “Video Hostage” is this nightmare’s emotional core. On it, Woodhead asks, “Is this a cry for attention?” Considering the madness of the affair, it could very well be. As the howling synths grow, Woodhead clucks, “Blame your parents, blame the city you’re from/ It doesn’t change nothing / You’re a broken clock/ Running in circles until the ticking stops.” Those might be the most fatalist lines in recent memory, but it fits into the desperate clockwork of The Air Conditioned Nightmare, grinding and grating together to make grand insanity.

One Comment

  1. mythhmusic

    May 28, 2015 at 8:23 am

    This is great. I’d totally forgotten about Doldrums but this is quickly becoming one of my favourite records of the year. Also I’ve been reminded how much I liked ‘Lesser Evil’ as well. I think what’s great about Doldrums is his ability to come gone on the potential pretence of the music. There are so many artists around who claim to be influenced by literature (think Mumford and Sons mindlessly blabbing about how much of an influence Shakespeare has had on them) and equally a tonne of artists who claim to be dissecting the nature of our relationship with technology etc. for no reason other than they make unpleasant synth based music. Doldrums could fall into this trap but doesn’t!

    On an unrelated note it totally reminded me to go and listen to Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel, another sort of ‘freak synth pop’ record I used to love but have forgotten about too!

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