You can dance to the echoes of Nero’s fiddle, but you can’t pretend that the empire isn’t burning. From jihadi mercenaries to rain forest arsonists, blithe drone operators to sinister traffickers, the crackle of kindling can be heard from its distant corners. The stillness of decaying factories makes it easy to hear the drone of server farms, collecting and processing the information used to track, monitor and control its subjects. The empire’s heart beats to the rhythm of small arms fire.
Twice a Man are legends of the Swedish music scene. The Gothenburg-based group of Karl Gasleben and Dan Söderqvist arose at the end of the 1970s from progressive rock roots, and today the band remains at the tip of the European warm wave spear. Now rejoined by sometime member, Jocke Söderqvist, their latest album, Presence, fits with Twice a Man’s reputation for making intelligent pop. This is music to explode lies, but without the direct didacticism of Pet Shop Boys’ latter works. It feels less like an emission from Professor Chomsky than the boy of lore who could see through the emperor’s threads.
The first single taken from the album, “Black,” comes with a radio-friendly edit and a dancefloor-oriented “Alien Waveform Extrapolation” mix. The material is emphatic and moody. With vocoders and glitchy synth sounds, it owes something to the more primitive electronics of the 1970s, but stylistically it is body music from five minutes into the future. It’s a good taste for how the album is going to proceed.
Presence begins with “A Time of Terror,” and you know it is the one we are living in. There are Arabesque touches to the song, but the rhythm track starts with an industrial/martial feel before dissolving into a solo cry. Portion Control once sang, “Terror leads to better days,” but it really doesn’t, and that is one of Twice a Man’s themes.
“Here Comes the Rain” describes “insane cries without end” that “reverberate between religious walls.” Twice a Man don’t shy away from difficult material, and with soaring guitars and grinding bass lines, they tackle the day’s headlines straight on. It is not only, of course, in areas of Syria over-run by Wahhabist maniacs that this description rings true. As a live track, you don’t need a prophet to tell you that this will be an absolute stormer.
The rain blends into the following song, “A World Is Gone.” With dramatic – even cinematic – musical backing, longing is expressed for the spirit of resistance that has long since passed into passivity. These days, the radicals of ’68 sip tea from Che Guevara mugs while watching Idol on television, while poisonous gases are released onto battlefields and the planet is allowed to die outside of their dream homes. “Will there ever be harmony again,” asks the song – and the answer is, “Of course”, but how the balance is restored depends on the courage that can be summoned in the world’s living rooms.
After the album version of “Black,” “Lines” picks up the pace with a Moroder-meets-John Barry track that exhorts us not to let the future fall. There is every risk that we will, of course. The new generation will do well to learn how to make such energetic electronic music before it is too late.
The title track, “Presence,” swirls and bubbles over a funky bass line. It’s the kind of track that shows why Twice a Man are still the masters of theatrical dark wave. It’s not hard to imagine Covenant feeling affinity for this material, even if they don’t participant in the polemic. “We need power to fill our needs” sums it up.
These themes continue, wrapping up with “High in the Clouds,” which takes up warnings of ecological disaster. Songs about holes in the ozone layer might sound didactic on paper, but there are additional layers to the material; further levels of consciousness to be explored. Twice a Man’s message is ultimately one of hope, but not for the arrival of a superman – no one is going to save the planet for you. You can dance, but when the lights come up, that’s still your job.
Details on Presence are here.