Music for a generation of would-be revolutionaries
For all intents and purposes, Amnesia Scanner is a cyborg. Under this moniker, the Berlin-based duo of Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala make demonic club music that wreaks havoc across a perfectionist digital sheen and exposes the gritty, messy innerworkings of an increasingly cybernetic life. On their first full-length, Another Life, the human quality of their music is compromised more than ever. Aside from a few riotous vocal performances from labelmate Pan Daijing, everything is grossly digital. As the possibility of artificially-induced creativity becomes a real future, the two members of Amnesia Scanner discard their individual identities in favor of a single, post-human entity that envisions dance culture after a tech-induced apocalypse.
The key sound of Another Life is the group’s unofficial third member, Oracle. This subject is a vocoder-esque production tool, and its voice shows up on a steady handful of the tracks. It sings, speaks and has a language, but all of these traditional vocal elements are constantly upended by the electronics dragging the pitch and timbre around in a maddening fashion. “AS A.W.O.L.” is a lumbering track with a woozy, arrhythmic bassline, but the vocal element shines the most. On the chorus, Oracle’s voice cracks like it might be screaming, but it also drops to a low register to offer some sense of unfiltered melody on the verse. Artificial intelligence is not a dumb plaything for curious humans; they exist as a real threat to our inefficiencies and shortcomings, and Oracle is the perfect, malleable replacement for the horde of traditionalists growing useless.
What makes Amnesia Scanner’s cyborg-pop so potent is their resistance to simple narratives. An element of the group’s conceptual makeup resembles the logic of movements like vaporwave or PC Music, but there’s no plea towards nostalgia or kitsch to sell these tracks. Instead, Amnesia Scanner looks towards a stifled anger and a paralyzing sense of non-place and non-identity: Humanity appears as a fleeting, ungraspable concept. “There’s this life/ And there’s another life” is the central hook of the title track, and the oppressive walls of sound that surround Oracle here only reinforce how temporary and unsacred Amnesia Scanner can make life feel. This all happens in concurrence with the overtly empowering nature of the thudding drums.
Irony, then, is present in Another Life, but not in a way that highlights sarcastic wit. It is more an irony that exposes the incompatible tensions the duo’s music builds. “AS Too Wrong” has some of the most disgusting, bleeding sound design of the year, but it’s all in service of the stickiest hook Amnesia Scanner have written to date. This irony is also present when Pan Daijing shows up not to search the sounds of her body as she did on her recent album Lack, but more to fold herself into Amnesia Scanner’s warped world. Her voice multiplies and vanishes, cracks and stretches. Of her two contributions, the shrill screams of “AS Chaos” are the most memorable. Another candidate for the group’s closest things to a potential hit, the track uses a collage of noise and one repeating synthesizer riff to give the album a final bang before it ends on a more somber note with “AS Rewild.”
These moments of relative rest give the album more dynamism than a simple, all-out thrill ride. There are a few cuts that read as ambient detours from the monstrous percussion that surrounds them, but their purpose is deeper than that. Tracks like “AS Daemon” and “AS Chain” are the two best examples of Amnesia Scanner’s potential with non-breakneck music, and the results are chilling. Instead of an anarchist sense of the rebellion, there’s a reflective melancholy here. It’s as if the hopes of a fiery revolution that tracks like “AS A.W.O.L.” or “AS Another Life” offered were just a fantasy, and the crippling reality comes through in these quieter moments.
So, whether Amnesia Scanner remains a duo (trio?) or melts into a single unit is beside the point. They’ve already showed us that they have the capabilities of both, and that’s where their threat and potential lies. Instead of falling prey to the slippery downfalls of either an entirely human or entirely digital world, they exist in the gooey liminal space that can co-opt the strengths of both sides for their benefit. Thankfully, Amnesia Scanner sees beyond the greedy possibilities this power offers and choose to use their position to make utilitarian, igniting music for a generation of would-be revolutionaries.