Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its ability to create its own realistic imagery and music that there’s the niggling fear that humans will become obsolete as a result. Yet currently we can still take some comfort that AI still need us mortals to be around, as shown by their incompetence at drawing hands with the correct number of fingers, and its reliance on humans to type in keywords. Supergroup Creep Show (consisting of John Grant and Cabaret Voltaire‘s Stephen Mallinder on vocals and Wrangler‘s Phil Winter and Ben “Benge” Edwards on keyboards and drum pads respectively) may include AI in their description of what the Yawning Abyss of the title could incorporate. However as press releases and information about their second album – and follow-up 2018’s Mr Dynamite are both scarce and cryptic, with the latter most likely intentionally, we are meant to interpret Yawning Abyss within the abyss of our own imagination. Teasing us with snippets of dramatic clues and allowing us to decide what is happening in this canyon of the unknown and perhaps how it reflects on our view of the world.
Due to the experimental electro and techno produced by the group’s love of Roland and Moog vintage synths, as well as the robotic manipulation of John Grant and Stephen Mallinder’s voices, most of Yawning Abyss is reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s Man Machine. This is what makes this critic think about AI. From the off, we are engaged in some mechanical therapy on the heavily filtered ‘The Bellows’. A track that’s croaky detached vocals spring to mind David Lynch‘s ‘Good Day Today’. If thinking about the lyrics in a topical way, the computerised therapist could be having a session with Russia’s incumbent leader. The robotic vocals accuse: “You are complacent, but you still don’t get it/The bombs are dropping, but you won’t be stopping, ” before the track ends with it confessing in its faultiness: “Computers are such strange fellows.”
The bizarre Art-of-Noise style ‘Yahtzee!’ and ‘Steak Diane‘ sounds like a human has entered words into the Yawning Abyss machine and the AI is trying to make sense of it. The former has a cold harshness in its lyrics and delivery that makes it an uncomfortable listen and the latter’s repetitiveness and lack of direction within its over six-minute length can be tiresome. Still, they both work well at reflecting the idea of computers gathering information from different sources such as pop culture and trying to do something with it. Repeating the phrase “Steak Diane” before comprehending that it is a meat dish with Worchester sauce and parsley.
The haunting science-fiction horror soundtrack ‘Bungalow‘ is somewhat an anomaly to the rest of the electro sound on Yawning Abyss but is the most intriguing example of Creep Show leaving listeners pieces of a narrative puzzle to complete. With John Grant’s vocals at their most crystal clear and passionate, he is suggesting that something traumatic happened to the song’s protagonist whilst they were living in a twisted one-storey house. To outsiders, it looks like the perfect family home from 1950’s commercials: “In your bungalow all the lines are crisp and clean,” but unbeknown to others darker things are happening within: “But you can’t forget what you saw when you were just sixteen/You remember that one moment you were left just standing there/A dark stain spreading on the carpet, this can’t be happening/Electric shocks awaken all the places you have ever been.” Blood is spilled through abuse or some alien invasion? Who knows? The track’s use of harp within its dark synths and squelching phasing could suggest the listener’s understanding of what is a dream and what is reality is somewhat clouded. Nonetheless, the memory of it is so painful to the victim that they aim to “light a single match” and set fire to the house in an attempt to erase its stain on their mind.
The contrasting title track ‘Yawning Abyss’, which sounds buoyant and recalls the keys on Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ but has apocalyptic lyrics about autumns never coming – is also an evocative and rewarding listen. Its use of reverb to reflect the bottomless pit of its subject works effectively, as John Grant sarcastically invites us to jump and sink into the abyss and embrace the fear of change. “Come sink with me into the yawning abyss/You’d have to be a crazy person to assert you’ve never wanted this.” This critic now feels a little more happy-go-lucky about AI.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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