I haven’t yet seen that film Ex Machina, but I imagine it could be quite compatible with Martin Gore’s latest endeavour.
In March, the English musician, globally renowned for writing much of New Wave champions Depeche Mode’s 35 years of material, announced a 16-track instrumental record. In doing so, he guided us with the following statement: “I wanted to keep the music very electronic, very filmic and give it an almost sci-fi like quality.”
MG, out Tuesday via Mute Records, is quite its own beast — and a beast it is, clocking in at nearly 55 minutes from start to finish. Gore says in the initial press release, “As a songwriter, I am aware of the power of words. Especially when they are juxtaposed the right way with chords and melody.” Later, on last Wednesday’s live preview and conversation, he admitted that eliminating vocals was the “most difficult challenge in creating an instrumental album.”
The struggle is audible. MG is certainly less sexy; though moments like 1:33 on “Spiral” put in a good effort, they’re no “Corrupt” (Sounds of the Universe, 2009) and the album, as a whole, doesn’t connect the way other Depeche Mode records do. It begins optimistically with “Pinking,” a plucky introduction, but soon turns into itself, shying away from light matter…MG is also void of guitar, what Gore is typically celebrated for.
Lead single “Europa Hymn” is one of few instances of melodic resolve; other more melodic tracks, such as the ominous “Elk” or funky “Stealth,” function only as part of a build-up or suspense-mount. Later on the record, “Trysting” is another moment like “Europa Hymn” that doesn’t sound as cold; instead, it vaults the listener into a less urgent and more inquisitive final chapter. It’s this final chapter that suggests Gore has some overarching storyline for MG: regardless of the genesis of each individual track, the grouping of the majestic march “Southerly” and the relatively sparkly, upbeat “Featherlight” seems rather intentional.
As the album draws to a close, so does the story, on a more uplifting note; a warm humanity rises from its digital core, and MG comes closer to making the connection listeners are reaching out for, despite the mechanical element that remains through the whirring, echoes, and metallic counterpoint.
Utility-wise — assuming you’re not David Lynch — the overall record doesn’t score high. You almost have to approach listening to it the way Gore approached creating it: MG is neither happy nor sad; it is not angsty nor charming. Most of it is simultaneously minimal and unsettling. Stretches exist without any semblance of melody. Like an exercise in focusing on objects in the distance, squinting is not recommended — listener understanding must instead be an organic process like the creative one Gore describes.
Beyond its self-gratifying nature, MG is a window into the creative genius of Gore, of the warped darkness that defined Depeche Mode for over three decades…MG is that instrumental depth concentrated. It is the juxtaposition of artifice and nature, with emphasis on the artifice and the replacement rate of nature. It is the study of a grey region between the two — overwhelming, but ever-so-relevant.
Article by Joanna Jiang