Time is the Traitor
There was a brief period just after the turn of the millennium when minimal synth acts were swept up with the hype surrounding electroclash, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear names like Adult., Dopplereffekt and Solvent being discussed in the same breath as house-influenced megastars like Felix the Housecat and Fischerspooner, with Miss Kittin & the Hacker as an unlikely bridge between the two camps. Although the common roots of all those artists aren’t hard to pinpoint (Kraftwerk, early Human League, The Normal and selected bits of Detroit techno), the spare, sterile sound of the former group has lent them a more enduring quality, and it’s them that I think of when listening to the debut of Los Angeles synth duo Violet Tremors. In embracing a dark, lean aesthetic constructed from classic sounds (both in terms of gear and influences) Time is the Traitor captures a certain timelessness, and is far more urgent than its component parts might suggest.
With songs that are as deliberately scant of ornamentation as the ones plied by Violet Tremors, texture and melody become nominal. At any given time on Time is the Traitor it’s easy to precisely pick out each element of the mix; there’s scarcely more than a bassline, a lead and a vocal happening at any given moment on any track. That said, the trick its songs excel at is being sharp and engaging enough to resist the listener’s urge to pull them apart in the listening. The squiggly analogue synths and deadpan, delayed delivery from Jessica White on “Future Love” are as bare-bones as it gets, the immediacy and punch of their arrangement making it hard to imagine why you would need anything further. It’s the same with “Concentrate”; it may be all drums, buzzing bass and flat, affectless delivery, but played loud the negative space in the sparse mix makes it all the more enveloping and forceful. On a similar tip, the hypnotic “Time Dissolver” would easily fit into the current surge of new european coldwave, but it’s only after multiple listens that I bother to draw the comparison, entranced as I am by its sweeping and plaintive charms.
Taken out of context, the songs on Time is the Traitor could easily have appeared on the electronic music landscape at any time in the last 20+ years, but it’s their austere nature rather than the trappings of classic synth music that grab my attention. I suppose that if it were any longer than its conservative 35 minute running time I might start to get a bit antsy, but the sequencing of the album reflects the savvy in the construction of the tracks themselves. Placed in proximity with one another to carefully create balance and listenability, the lean, distant “Control Submarine” balances the spooky bounce of “Autosuggestion” with surprising readiness. Built with care, the album is another proof of the power that less-is-more can have when wielded by folks who understand the technique’s nuances.