Agent Side Grinder
Agent Side Grinder’s 2019 LP A/X was a reinvention of sorts; the Swedish synth act having slimmed down from a five member lineup to a trio featuring founding members Johan Lange and Peter Fristedt and incoming vocalist Emanuel Åström. Along with that new configuration came a more neon, new wave inflected sound that took Agent Side Grinder’s rough analogue synth and cold wave sound from the cold war streets to the discotheque, with a slicker design and a more club-ready sound. New album Jack Vegas finds its place between its predecessor and the band’s classic stylings, splitting the difference in ways that open up new musical avenues.
Crucially, Agent Side Grinder return to arpeggios and looped sequences as the standard building blocks on Jack Vegas, riding the tension of ominous monosynths and analogue percussion for effect. A cut like “Decipher” that builds from the most basic repeating arrangement of stock beeps into a swarm of complimentary and contrasting patterns, choirs and busy drum programming has impact specifically because it keeps its central element close at hand over its runtime. Similarly, the much more immediate “Number by Number” comes out of the gate with a descending minor-key bassline that persists through verses, choruses and all points in between, never letting the track’s nervous energy settle into an easily digestible groove.
Even with that renewed emphasis on grinding everything they can out of a given sequence or loop, some of the new wave sensibility the band displayed on A/X remains intact. The laser-gun spring reverb sounds that accent the Suicide-styled percussion are hosts for a fast moving, rough-edged dance track that features a great desperate vocal from Åström, all classic euro post-punk at its most synthetic and club-ready. Single “Bloodless” shows some of the band’s more ambitious reaches when it comes to arrangements, layering in a key-change on the chorus that lends the track a theatrical lift that carries through into a veritable symphony of string-sounds and big drum crashes, Kurt Weill by way of Kraftwerk.
We were quite taken with the new incarnation of Agent Side Grinder in their first outing, and while Jack Vegas steps back somewhat from the preceding LP’s immediacy and accessibility, it’s not a regression musically. Agent Side Grinder have always been at their best when their more delicate programming and production elements have clashed and contrasted with their rougher-hewn design choices, never smooth enough to fully merge with the retro-wave aesthetic of so many of their peers. In finding a way to reassert their singular personality while carrying over some of their pop leanings, the band have done right by themselves, and Jack Vegas is all the better for it.