Musical experimentation is by its very nature an endeavour of sporadic success. Leading either to the definition of a new genre or unstructured and unlistenable sound-scapes. Blast Unicorn have somehow, managed to craft an album that falls precisely halfway between these two point of sanctuary.
If Captain Beefheart became obsessed with computer game music and had decided to make an electro-djent album, because he’d had Djent described to him and thought it might make a fertile middle ground for his collaboration with Squarepusher: this is what it might sound like. If Squarepusher was only allowed an Spectrum ZX to make beats on.
Van Halo is willfully awkward, discordant, abrasive and designed with the deliberate intention of not allowing the listener room to relax or engage in any normal sense with the music. The tracks are short and staccato and orchestrated in such a way that the audience is kept tantalisingly on the point of repulsion.
But tellingly, Blast Unicorn, regardless of their artistic intention don’t push the envelope of experimentation far enough to genuinely deliver new forms with Van Halo. Because regardless of their frenetic style of fusion they are still using the tropes and modes which were developed in the mid-1960’s by bands such as The Grateful Dead and the aforementioned Captain Beefheart. OK, so their understanding of syncopation has been moulded by the post-modern binary approach but heightened rhythmic dynamism and a penchant for tonal exploration cannot make up for a lack of ideas of sufficient quality.
It is the fact that this whole collection feels like a pair of friends very much at play, which keeps me from engaging with it on a serious level. It’s not that it sounds overtly cheap, as anyone can buy the equipment to make high quality bedroom recordings these days. It is just that the whole effect is that of an incomplete document. That this is a series of sketches, noted down to capture ideas, for later development, as opposed to a finished product.
There are moments of interest, usually generated through an angular and imposing juxtaposition of style but sadly these are not developed enough to please the parts of me that love either EDM or Metal.
Regardless of any stylistic analysis that I might use to judge this record, their most glaring error is to lack the courage of their own convictions; and push Van Halo to the extremes at which it points. If these idea were taken to brutal and uncompromising conclusions then this review would be considerably different. But as it stands, this is experiment without the balls to genuinely annoy its audience and without the heart to make them genuinely excited. Which leaves them occupying an unfortunate middle ground, whose only other occupant is Ross from Friends when he got his keyboard out, in the mistaken belief that music was his true calling.
– John Whitmore