Being that there are no bad VNV Nation albums, it's very hard to say which one is the best. Or it was. It's not anymore because if you don't hold their new album Automatic up as one of the greatest albums ever released by anyone in any genre anywhere, then we're sorry to tell you that your capacity for wonder and joy has been replaced with three melted crayons and a potato bug missing a leg.
We've always enjoyed every single piece of musicality that Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson have released, being enamored as we are with the masterful poetic approach of the vocals and the dark but danceable synthesized music. After we finally had a chance to meet the two backstage at their last Houston outing our appreciation only grew.
As a group they use a dream, codified in their name, of victory, not vengeance, to inspire their audience. They are not just musicians, they are apostles of a philosophy that would save this sorry planet if only people would hear it.
While listening to Automatic, for the first time a VNV album gripped us with its progression. Before, we tended to view each individual song as a separate, unrelated treatise. Singles-based music. This time we're fairly certain Harris and Jackson are working with a concept album, and so we'll do our best to walk through it in that sense.
The first part of the album heavily echoes Of Faith, Power, and Glory. Much of the same sentiments that the band has always expressed, enlightenment, self-identification, and a refusal to dance upon the puppet strings of any authority through empowerment rather than anger. "Space and Time" and "Resolution" would be at home in any other release, but when they get to "Control" an abrupt shift happens.
If it were possible for VNV Nation to become frustrated and furious, this song would be that little-used emotion's entrance music. It's harsh, grinding, and lacks the aether of their usual approach. Also, it has a distinct message shift. Suddenly, the prophets of inner revolution seem to suddenly seize actual real-world power. It's like one of those weird bloodless coups that shift countries from the road to destruction to something more like a real government.
It's such a total mindfuck that you'll need the entirety of the mid-album instrumental "Goodbye 20th Century" to recover. Once the throbbing of VNV's uprising subsides, it appears to be business as usual with "Streamline."
In the song, it honestly seems as if the world that Harris has always sang to us about, a world best summed up in our favorite VNV lyric "I believe that we'll conceive to make in Hell for us a Heaven," has finally come to fruition. Love and logic rule us all, and a thankful populace is in their hands hanging on every bit of wisdom.
However, any student of the French Revolution will tell you that the first thing that happens to a revolutionary after a successful revolution is immediate unemployment.
As the last act of Automatic plays out, there is a distinct loneliness in the songs. Remember the perfect world inspired by Wyld Stallyns music? What that movie didn't tell you is that upon establishment of that world there would be no more need for Wyld Stallyns.
So in VNV Nation's perfect utopia, what good are they? There's just enough time for Harris to thank the world that finally listened to him in "Gratitude," lament the loss of his driving fire in "Nova," and ultimately fade away, content that should the message VNV Nation always espoused be needed again it will be forever in circulation through the radio waves.
That, friends and enemies, is a hell of a journey to take on backs of beepity boop savants whose electronica gets only better as they progress. Coupled with the psyche-shattering brilliance of the band's lyrical output are the perfect combination of pop beats and gothic darkness to hone the songs' edge.
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In a world that continually embraces victim music - and if you're listening to mainstream Houston radio we are definitely talking about you - VNV Nation continues to release works that refuse to be anything other masters of destiny.
Automatic is available for download now. CD and vinyl versions will be released int he U.S. on October 25.