On Half Death, Daniel W J Mackenzie, of Ekca Liena fame, and Richard A Ingram, from Oceansize and British Theatre (he’s also the touring keyboard player for Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro), present a dark, sci-fi inspired soundtrack to a theoretical film. The two-year audio exchange has led to the creation of a dark and malevolent motherboard, capable of eating away at all rationality, stripping away reality with a deep fear and mistrust of advancing AI and 24/7 surveillance. The piano drips into the mind, but it isn’t illuminated by anything; it represents the black void of midnight television, and the billowing synths are painted in darkness, too.
The very process of working from remote locations, isolated and apart from one another throughout the entire recording process, manifests in the music, squeezing through cables and broadband connections and downloading itself into the music’s jaws. There’s an undeniably sinister side to Half Death. The ominous rumbles and glittering synth of ‘Two Futures’ is enough to confirm that. It could represent a living nightmare, an inescapable dystopia akin to 1984 and the pregnancy of paranoia in an era that’s gone to hell. But truth is often stranger than fiction, and these sounds are all the more frightening for their future depictions of an impending reality, and one that’s already bearing poisoned fruit. The unwanted prophecy is in the advent of China’s points-based system for citizens and continues with the cancerous rise of fascism across the world.
Half Death follows a group of noisy synths and a more reserved, introverted piano. Like a horror film trope, the friends set off innocently enough, walking into the world but unaware of the hostility awaiting them. The synths are reminiscent of rain-washed streets, the only light coming from the neon signs and after-dark fantasies, echoing something from a Philip K Dick novel. The sci-fi synths gleam with ultra-bright lights, shining like halogens from Hell, peaking and then dissipating; corpse-like and turgid. This is a constant rhythm, the tides of momentum going in and out, ebbing and flowing throughout the course of the album, with peaks and troughs being the only kind of familiar pattern or design in a strange city streaked in the blinded colours of midnight.
A deadened piano echoes in the night; a single note akin to a lonely stranger in a city of sin and off-coloured luck. All the while, a throbbing synth lingers in the background, an inflammation wrapping around the music, spreading to vital organs. The tonal muscles constrict in a tight headache. Underneath the crumbling architecture and the decaying facade is an austere-but-fleeting beauty. This rises to a head on the climax, where a gorgeous hallucination reveals itself in a swimming pool of synth and blinding light. It could either be the optimistic moment of realization and resistance, or it could be the moment of doom and finality. The frightening and exhilarating euphoria fades away, and as silence spools outwards, like blood on the sidewalk, you’ll wish it was just a dream.