Who?You probably haven't heard of Army On The Dance Floor. I certainly hadn't when I was tipped off by Primitive Race, who in turn I found out about after a particularly brilliant PWEI gig. On a particularly dull morning, I was introduced to the sound of 'Machine':
If you like your beats big and your vocals powerful and crystal clear you'll probably be as taken by the excellent album opener as I was. With a driving, pumping bass, classic synth sounds and a mid-paced tempo that guarantees to get you moving the track just drags you along with it to its super catchy chorus whilst remaining spacious and airy throughout. In fact this airiness and space pervades the entire album, creating a sound both familiar and old-skool yet very, very modern.
This sound is a true credit to the production abilities of AOTDF driving force Kourtney Klein, who is no stranger to big sound with her former associations with EBM/industrial outfits Combichrist and Nitzer Ebb. Not content with just being a classically-trained percussionist, hot-as-hell go-go dancer or TV presenter, Kourtney has assembled AOTDF to self-release the synth-driven music that she wants to - a refreshing move in the current climate of label-crafted wannabe all-from-the-same-mould plastic pop stars.
After the opening track come 'Juggernaut' and 'Lightning Strike' - straightforward pop songs, perhaps a little heavy for commercial radio despite their catchiness.
'Five Million Stars' has hit single written all over it. A lovely little love song that calls to mind Erasure - not the first or only nod to an obvious inspiration. This is followed by 'Carnival', yet another cracking pop song that manages, both lyrically and musically, to conjure the swirling of a fairground waltzer-ride.
'Bury You Alive', featuring Dann Saxton is possibly, for me, the only track that doesn't quite fit on the album. Whilst having no obvious defects, the darker sound and longer length with a less catchy chorus just don't quite tie in, being more Depeche Mode in feel. However, the track acts as a good breather before the second half of the album really kicks off.
'Leia', the beautiful Leia to borrow a lyric, brings the album back on track with its programmed drums, synth patterns and haunting vocals. For me, this was the first track where the lyrics really come to the fore. Behind the sparkly pop production and radio-friendly vocal there are some extremely powerful and compelling lyrics expressing sadness and jealousy at a relationship ruined by a fixation on a past lover. These deeper lyrics make you reconsider the other tracks, and soon you realise even as far back as first track 'Machine', with it's description of battling to suppress emotion, you realise this is a far cleverer album than the poppiness suggests.
Hints of Erasure appear throughout the album but are at their strongest on 'Captain of Your Own Sea' - another track with the sadness of the lyrics a counterpoint to the jolliness and jauntiness of the music. The shameful shortness of this track almost makes you think this could well actually be a Vince Clark cast-off.
Many Faces of War
The album closes with the absolutely stunning title track 'Many Faces of War'. This 12-minute multi-sectioned epic is a mini album in its own right. Opening with a haunting mock battle cry, the track starts with strangely fantastical, almost Game of Thrones style imagery, before pumping beats and metaphor mutate to a crescendo with much more personal lyrics exposing inner thoughts.
The track climaxes, and ultimately breaks down, in a fit of screaming bitterness and consuming anger that gives way to quiet reflection and acceptance - regret, sadness and loneliness all captured painfully yet perfectly, framed by high Numan-esque synths and Peter Gabriel-style pseudo panpipes.
By the time the refrain is taken up by a haunting (yes, I use that word again) reverb-laden piano, you can feel your heartbeat slowing to match the music - a beautiful melancholic end to a stunning and clever track and a compelling album.
This album seems to have had no big release, no live support, no physical CD or mechandise and no publicity. However, it is so complete and well-realised that it would be a travesty if it were overlooked by the wider world. My fear is that it'll be considered too poppy for a lot of people, and too unfashionably tuneful to get the airplay it deserves. As someone who regularly listens to stuff like Voice of The Beehive back to back with Strapping Young Lad though, I encourage you to give this a go - the entire album is currently up on YouTube so please give it a try at least!
Rating: 8/10 - Cracking debut. Dark, poppy and beautiful synthpop