The best art is most often a delicate balance between light and darkness – about knowing when to express, and when to imply. Where far too many either numb with repetition (or pummel into submission), the more effective know when to hold back, and to let go. When it comes to the darker shades of the sonic palette, that nuanced judgement becomes even more critical, so as not to become self-indulgent to the point of nihilism or naivete.
Arising from the ashes of Sneaker Pimps in the early 2000’s – IAMX being the titular X in SP’s Becoming X – Chris Corner’s solo project has mastered a sophisticated melancholy, one that speaks to restraint and intellect more than the emotional overloading that often dominates modern consciousness. It’s a beautiful, intoxicating darkness, gently enveloping rather than all-consuming.
Latest album Machinate is no exception – it clicks and whirrs with menacing purpose, weaving a bizarre tapestry of electronic dissonance. Low on vocals, but high on the influences of early industrial and early 2000’s experimental electronica, it’s more of an evolving soundscape than an album in the traditional sense. It is to IAMX what Kid A was to Radiohead, in a sense – a deviation, but one that hints at intriguing possibilities.
‘Normal’ shimmers in glorious melancholy, anchoring the album emotionally as a point of catharsis amidst what is mostly a more mechanically-oriented effort, while ‘Buy Fuck Die’ is reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails at their most eclectic. Closing salvo ‘Autist’ booms with heavy percussion, thundering through the gloom with no lack of poise and purpose.
There is ear candy aplenty to be had here, but not to the point of saccharine saturation. The magic of IAMX has always been in calculated ebb and flow, one that few can maintain so consistently over the course of a career – 17 years and counting in this case. Absolute precision, but not at the expense of the human element. Classic darkwave and dark pop influences are apparent, but where so many forsake the road ahead and fixate on the rear view, IAMX always look forward. It’s an intoxicating formula, and one tweaked suffiently with each release so as to not become formulaic overall.
It’s refreshing to see such consistency achieved without sacrificing the need for growth and experimentation – the advantage of achieving artistic maturity early in one’s career perhaps. X here is a variable that is always subject to change, surefooted enough to pivot, fluid as water and deep as ocean.