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I Speak Machine - Zombies 1985

  by Adrian Janes

published: 30 / 8 / 2017

I Speak Machine - Zombies 1985
Label: Lex Records
Format: CD


American music and film duo I Speak Machine’s journey back to the 1980s which proves more dead than alive

Composed of a singer/musician (Tara Busch) and a film-maker (Maf Lewis), I Speak Machine create the soundtracks to their own films. ‘Zombies 1985’, which Numanoids will be interested to learn stars the daughters of their king of alienation, is a soundtrack complemented by pastiche period songs (which I Speak Machine themselves label “mutant”), co-written and performed with Benge (John Foxx & The Maths). By dating their album to 1985, and using only contemporary equipment both to play and mix it, I Speak Machine knowingly locate themselves in the early phase of the modern revival of interest in the wrecked resurrected. (Recently deceased doyen of the zombie genre, George Romero, directed one of his earliest efforts, ‘Day of the Dead’, in this same year.) The title track, typical of the album’s opening clutch of pure instrumentals, is set off by a grimly pulsing synth. Overlaid by a chattering electronic phrase and interspersed by clattering drums and a disturbed news announcer, it’s the kind of atmospheric piece that probably heightens a scene but which heard alone doesn’t really stand up. It’s a relief when an actual song finally hoves into earshot, even if the stark ‘Demon Days’, with its sparse synth and drum machine and Busch’s low-pitched vocals, is not really anything to make you cast aside any Gothic or industrial-tinged electronica you might have from the original era. Enervated vocals intone “You cannot get blood from a stone” on the next song; good advice, perhaps, for a zombie starting on a mistaken snack. Again the tone of the drum machine and the synths is period-perfect. But again it also provokes the question of why do it, unless it’s the kind of revivalism that at the same time somehow manages to sound fresh: unfortunately this doesn’t. Things improve to some degree from the sequencer-driven ‘Hollywood Power’ onwards, which in combination with the vintage drum machine evokes a marriage of ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Planet Rock’. Busch’s vocals become more expressive and ambitious over the latter part of the album – ‘Shame’ has a memorable chorus that suggests early DepechemMode, while ‘Trouble’, having begun on a pleasant shimmering synth motif, evolves to surround her voice with a darkly threatening tone. Yet there are still some questionable musical decisions, especially on ‘Petrified Mind’ where strong singing sits alongside what can only be described as electronic farts, like a ‘Walking Dead’ re-enactment of the campfire scene in ‘Blazing Saddles’. Meanwhile ‘Gone to LA’ features a slightly funky echoed synth, electronic handclaps and distorted vocals – basically, the core elements of an 80's dance track but without any real twist or character. But maybe I Speak Machine thought why not, if Mark Ronson can have a hit with blatant nostalgic pastiche? The most musically interesting track is left until last. ‘New Dawn (1986)’ counterposes a clear chiming phrase with stabs of deep synth and the thud and crash of electronic percussion. Vocally, there are layers of anxious harmonies, a lone high voice and spoken words. In contrast to the prevalent starkness of approach elsewhere, this track has noticeably more going on and for it. It’s not made clear which tracks on ‘Zombies 1985’ directly relate to the film and which were composed to fit with them. Whatever the case, the most successful soundtrack albums are surely those which, as well as adding emotional depth to the viewing of a film, also work as a satisfying listen in their own right, such as Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’ or Philip Glass’ ‘Mishima’. Hungry to be in such company as I Speak Machine might be, their musical cannibalisation is not enough to make this listener replete.

Track Listing:-
1 ISM Station Ident
2 Zombies 1985
3 Honey I'm Home
4 Demon Days
5 Blood From A Stone
6 Hollywood Power
7 Shame
8 Gone To LA
9 Trouble
10 Petrified Mind
11 New Dawn (1986)

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