“Well there’s a face I hadn’t seen in a while.”
The return of Linea Aspera for a live show in London was one of the defining events of 2020.
Yes, there has been a global pandemic. Sure, California burned. But these events are predictable enough that insurance companies write them into their terms and conditions. The reunion of Alison Lewis/Zoe Zanias and Ryan Ambridge was something that no actuary expected to see in their lifetime.
Officially adjourned sine die in 2013, Linea Aspera was one of the capital’s few dark electro success stories. Sequenced, minor-key grooves created an air of tension and suspense that Lewis’ vocals hovered over with mag-lev power. Songs like “Attica” and “Malarone” blew away the webs spun by gothic imposters and tore layers off the city’s ossified synthpop scene. Many arrived too late to see the duo in action, but their absence only expanded their influence.
Lewis relocated to Berlin and launched other projects, including Keluar and Zanias, which showcased her powerful vocals and ecological concerns. Zanias continues as a solo enterprise, but she and Ambridge both agreed that they had unfinished business with Linea Aspera.
With LP II, there is firm proof that there was nothing accidental about the pair’s first releases. Recently celebrated in the collection, Preservation Bias, those songs had set a high water mark for their genre. The eight songs on the new album, fuelled by themes of physics and astronomy, confirm that the duo had plenty of energy left in the tank.
The opener, “Solar Flare,” makes use of analogue arpeggiation, bearing comparison to The Knife’s “Silent Shout” or Monty Cantsin’s “Catastronics.” It has driving, uplifting instrumentation that is counterposed by Lewis’ ambiguous lyrics.
“Entanglement” isn’t a story about Jada Pinkett Smith, but the actor might want to spend more time with the combination of Ambridge’s synthetic bag of tricks and Lewis’ earnest vocals. A highlight on the album, it is destined to be a live favourite.
“Entropy” is a key concept from thermodynamics. It is the tendency of disorder and chaos to increase over time without the investment of further energy. Rather like a relationship, then. Linea Aspera’s success is partly from their ability to weave pop material from dark threads without making the material too stiff, and this track is a great example of their craftwork.
One of the outstanding tracks from the album is “Event Horizon.” Lewis’ vocals are always elegant, and she manages to maintain a balance between uplifting and painful feelings throughout. Space travel becomes a metaphor for love, and there is hope even when no light can be seen.
LPII arrives in a world that is on fire, disoriented and dislocated. It is a magical return for one of Europe’s best acts.