Whenever a ‘supergroup’ forms, we start to imagine all kinds of power struggles behind the scene (witness the criterati’s commentary on the recent Flaming Lips/Neon Indian collaboration) but also recognize the love-in factor. It’s like a musical deathmatch played out in the sweaty, homoerotic arena of Mixed Martial Arts. What one rarely finds, however, is the synthesis of the sounds brought by such a group’s various components into a new form that nonetheless retains their recognizable trademarks. But Channel Pressure is such a beast. The experimentalist, ambient-cum-industrial tendencies of the fêted Oneohtrix Point Never combine with the dreamy electro-pop of Games (Ford & Lopatin’s previous moniker) and the classy, romantic soft rock/synthfunk of Tigercity to produce a hybrid feline that, through technological intervention, is created in a laboratory rather than through decades of purposeful interbreeding.
But the album’s historical pedigree (in this case, the 1980s) remains apparent. While being by no means solely a pastiche project, the 80s influences here are worn rather obviously on the sleeve. “Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me),” for example, combines the fretless bass aesthetic characteristic of Mick Karn (Japan/Gary Numan) with insistent beats referencing Blue Monday. And in textual terms, we have here a concept album that again manifests this retro-futurism: Joey Rogers (who I conceptualize as a Fly-style meld of Joey Jeremiah and Buck Rogers), 2082 teenage David, is a bedroom warrior battling the Goliath of the music industry with MIDI his only weapon (guys, are you giving us your blessing to fileshare the album?) In other words: WarGames, meet Tron. You’ve got a lot in common; I think you’ll like each other. The retroactive construction of subjectivity within the screen emerges in the frequent lyrical references to television, here understood in the context of the discourse of the “influencing machine,” which subliminally or hypnotically controls the individual. These references, as well as informing the striking, Poltergeist-esque cover art, locate the album somewhere between the technology of the past and that of the future, between 1984 and the virtualized separation of image from machine.
Over the course of the album, we see at times these various influences collide beautifully within particular pieces, while at others they don’t work together quite so well, diverging such that we alternate between brief experimental interludes and synthetic pop songs. Rather than the fragile, memorable tunes of Tigercity’s stunning debut EP or of Games’ standout “Strawberry Skies,” these are melodies that won’t impress themselves instantly upon the consciousness but rather work their way into it — and this sits nicely with the album’s experimental edge and themes of subliminal manipulation. In terms of the synthetic, lashings of Auto-Tune, though not out of place tout court, are somewhat excessive, marring in particular what would otherwise be a standout track, “World of Regret.” But this is a small quibble given the creaminess of the falsetto, reminiscent of Green Gartside or Lewis Taylor, which floats over the top of the soundscape, creating an on-again, off-again tension with periodic moments of crunchy (though never harsh) electronica.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one for whom “Lopatin & Ford” suggests a Big Pharma-controlled assembly line, but in terms of assemblages and repetitions, what we have here is a creation that is equal parts experimentation and familiarity, cheese sincerity, teen affect, cultural diagnostics, and a liberal streak of naïve charm. Or we could call it Weird Science, and leave it at that.