Much of the music that we listen to is so vocal-driven, with the spotlight shinning resolutely on singers and their performances, that when we do encounter instrumental music we can feel a bit adrift. We train our ears to follow vocal lines so naturally that, in their absence, it takes us a minute to figure out what’s important in the song, and what to focus on. Instrumental artists can’t rely on the accessibility of catchy lyrics or the charisma of a great singer to keep listeners interested; they have to find ways of keeping our attention using only the abstract and hard to verbalize tools of rhythm, harmony, and sound. This can lead to its own traps and overindulgences, a common one in electronic music being a sort of hyper complexity, whereby producers, for fear of being boring, stuff their mixes so full of layers, sounds, fills, edits, glitches, and automations, that the end result is distracting, rather than dazzling, exhausting rather than engaging.
To its credit, this is a trap that Com Truise’s Iteration avoids, albeit narrowly. There’s an awful lot going on in this record, often so much so that the listener is unsure where the focus is supposed to be. But this is an abundance that seems a great deal more intentional, and a great deal more sincere than the typical throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach of most pop and commercial EDM. Rather, Iteration takes the fundamental sounds and tropes of its synth wave genre DNA and pushes them to their logical extremes. It takes thick, warm bass and makes it as thick and warm as it can possibly be. It takes retro sounding synth patches and makes them drip with color and texture. It extends its technicolor soundscapes into both the rigidly synthetic and deeply fragile, to the point that, on several occasions, it literally decays in our ears. And it transforms genre-drums already known for being big and pounding into a percussion section that’s so concussive, so forward and immediate in the mix, that it sound as much like gun shots as drum samples.
The album’s greatest achievement is in finding some cohesion among these extremes. There are moments, most notably the overcrowded ‘Memory,’ when Iteration gets buried in its own commotion. But by and large, the complexity of the album allows the listener to facilitate their own engagement with it, to govern their own experience. Rather than stumbling through the complexities, looking for focus, one can let their attention wander through the soundscapes Com Truise creates, overlooking the sounds that aren’t interesting and lingering over, really feeling the contours of those that are. This makes Iteration are very subjective album, with reactions dependent upon how one listens to it, and what one listens for throughout its course.
Iteration is also a very physical album. Though ostensibly tied together with a narrative concept, there are only sporadic attempts made to communicate that concept through buzzing, robotic bits of dialogue haphazardly slapped into the bookends of several tracks, and the album neither needs nor benefits from their presence. There are a few moments – such as in the arcing melodies of “Usurper” or the surprisingly bracing energy of “Ternary” – where the album achieves some real evocative emotion. However, most of the album’s interest lies in its celebration of the tactility of sound – its shape and texture. The sounds that make up the album feel very tangible, and the soundscapes they assume feel navigable and firmly grounded.
Iteration is many things. It is bright, loud, full, and complex. Yet, it is also far from perfect. The LP is often safe, frequently repetitive and occasionally redundant. Nevertheless, it is one of those albums that we kept thinking about after we heard it, if for no other reason than to wonder what it would feel like to hold one of those bass notes in our hands.