The attraction to dark subject matter is a strange and loaded contradictory impulse. Take horror movies, for instance - why would be want to see hapless strangers brutally massacred, while we ourselves run the risk of coronary failure? Or what about the attraction of a somewhat sadomasochistic relationship? How can something be simultaneously liberating and demeaning?
These are complicated questions that every lover of the morbid and macabre must ask themselves at some point. This is the dividing line - the crux - that Plike seeks to explore on their newest EP Empathetic Apathy. Austin, TX's Plike, the duo of programmer ASH and siren-like vocalist Mad Madam Em, are working firmly in the darkside, downtempo witch house/trip-hop continuum with occasional forays into drum 'n bass and dubstep territory.
Rather than being comprised of standout songs or singles, each track of Empathetic Apathy seems like a movement in a greater whole. The tempo stays close to stately, ponderous techno, dropping into double time when it needs to pick up the pace or switch up the action.
This is music for fogged-out Goth club dance floors. Music for festivals at night, under starry skies. Music for dancing, or music for walking and thinking. Music for romance, or getting over romance. ASH is quite the competent programmer, slotting every trick and technique with Jenga-like precision for Em's vocals to soar above, like a stainless steel albatross. Or a banshee.
The precise machinations of ASH's production speak to my only minor quibble with this rather fine EP. It's all a little too perfect, a little too put together. Plike sticks to the verse-chorus-verse structure of big room techno theatrics, and, while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, it's very, very hard to stand out in the mix.
Consider the elegant, elegiac strings of "Diffidence," a gorgeous and moving track. However, the strings seem to slide right out of the Eustachian canals, as loveliness is stacked on top of loveliness. You can picture people dancing in slow motion to its balletic beauty, but there's no tension, no conflict, no release. The drums are big and epic. The strings are slow and mournful. Mad Madam Em's bewitching vocals are crystal perfection.
I'm probably in the minority here, as I'm sure tens of thousands of people wearing big black pants with lots of straps would be drooling blood to dance to Empathetic Apathy, as a lifelong fanatic of the darkside, the romantic, as well as anthemic electronic music, I know they are capable of even more. Let's hear it!
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