Tundra/Basic Unit Productions
There’s something mutable and exciting in the way NYC based programmer and musician Joey Blush has assembled his new album Tension Strategies. While his attention to sound design (a talent he apparently lent to the sessions for Fear Factory’s well regarded 2012 comeback The Industrialist) is apparent in the modular synth squelch and blast that informs each of the LP’s 9 tracks, there’s a also a sense that Blush hasn’t settled into making one kind of song or is using a single approach to creation yet. The result is a record with a restless and pliable quality, modern day industrial that doesn’t quite fit any broader genre categories but isn’t entirely unfamiliar or alien either.
Tension Strategies is front-loaded with songs that pretty much encapsulate that freedom, the fundamental differences between them setting the tone for the album. Opener “America” grinds along on a fuzzy bass groove that never strays far from the heart of the cut, its forward momentum complemented by an evolving set of filters and effects that allow the song to build to a full-on machine-rock chorus without ever growing stale or losing focus. “Voices” shifts the focus to processed drums, forgoing instrumental melody and allowing Blush’s treated vocals to carry the song, playing out as an alternate iteration of Dive-style distorted electro. And as a capper to the opening salvo, “Delusional” finds a middle ground between the two preceding songs, a mechanized verse section breaking out into an unexpectedly large and fluid hook before plunging back into swarms of buzzing synths.
The rest of the songs on the album generally fall somewhere between the poles established in the opening quarter hour, some straying further into industrial rock (“Heathen Life” which features a healthy amounts of electric bass and a full-on chug-a-chug guitar breakdown), others retreating into purely electronic territory (“Mass Ejection”, which faintly recalls some latter-era cEvin Key tweaky synth work). For a comparatively brief album it’s notable how many different permutations Blush touches on, carefully sliding in elements like the muted EBM style bassline on “Burn Blue” or the cathedral verb outro on the relentlessly squealing “Respite”. His vocals are ever present in a variety of effected forms, occasionally showing some signs of strain where his reach exceeds his grasp as a singer, but also hitting home on the subtle progression of closer “Dying Eyes”.
It’s the protean quality of Tension Strategies that I think holds the key to its appeal. Even loosely trying to describe what it sounds like takes effort, and the obvious touchpoints and comparisons like Nine Inch Nails fail to really give an accurate picture of it; there are just too many branches and offshoots to easily summarize. Too often the idea of consistency is accompanied by a false assumption that an artist who is still playing with form and structure either lacks creative discipline or a style of their own. It’s not an either/or scenario, and while I can’t handily sum up Blush Response, I feel like there’s a distinctive and noteworthy creative voice behind each song. It’s an arrival record and a stage setter for whatever may come afterwards, the possibilities and potential of which seem expansive and intriguing. Recommended.