Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Best Band Ever?: Front 242

I love too many bands to have a single favorite, but if I had to go through the process of picking a favorite, Front 242 would definitely make the shortlist. They are incredibly underappreciated considering the immense impact they had on subsequent generations of electronic music. For me, their digital artwork is also emblematic of an era, one which really resonates with me emotionally and aesthetically. They're another band that I became immediately and permanently obsessed with when I first heard them, back in my early teens.

"Front By Front" is one of the perfect 80s albums -- essentially flawless, and emblematic of its era. Every song is haunting yet full of rhythmic energy, a sound I closely associate with that Late Cold War era feeling of resignation to a bleak future combined with a pent-up desire to do something about it being funneled into creatvity, movement, and desire.

"Don't Crash" off the excellent "Politics of Pressure" EP is one of my absolute favorite songs, and fills me with nostalgia every time I hear it (it always has, even when I first heard it -- it's just got that nostalgia inducing sound for me, similar to Pink Floyd's "Remember A Day" or Project Pitchfork's "I Live Your Dream"). If you asked me for one song that summed up the feeling of the 1980s completely, "Don't Crash" would certainly be a contender. ("Work 242" is also especially good for getting into a dreamy mood.)

Front242 sounds like Cyberpunk reads (as do Clock DVA, Borghesia, and several other 242 peers). It's music to write software by, and the perfect soundtrack to dystopian dreams in which you're a dark, Deckardian hero fighting through driving rain, human foibles, and the misery of a dying world to try to find a better way. It's the sonic equivalent of a targeting HUD on a black helicopter stalking its prey in the night -- rendered 8bit. Mirrorshades and goggles, armored leather outfits, headsets with dangling wires... this is the proper attire to capture the feeling of Front 242 in an outfit.

Yet Front242 is not soulless machine music. It is cold and bleak, yet at the same time full of energy and desire. Later Front242 is even more layered, creating a fuller sound that is in some ways richer than their earlier work (and in some ways, not as exciting in its stripped-down clarity and evocatively bleak atmosphere).

That new direction took me a bit of getting used to when "05:22:09:12 Off" and "06:21:03:11 Up Evil" came out, mainly because of the band's lineup change and unfortunate embrace of the Techno aesthetic in their live shows, but these (and the later "Pulse") are absolutely a continuation of the Front242 sound and unequivocably are true Front242 albums -- all but one of which is excellent (the one is the unlistenably bad remix album "Mut@ge Mix@ge"). I now listen to those newer albums almost as much as the older ones.

Machine music has taken many different directions over the years, but the Front242 sound will always be among the most compelling. If you have never heard Front242, consider it your duty to "Catch The Men" and rectify this aesthetic deficiency immediately.