[Never Anything; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: electronic, experimental, instrumental
Others: cumulonimbus, exurban commute

Despite popular perception, Seattle sees less yearly rainfall than other US metros like Chicago or New York. During the fall and winter months, though, the Olympic rain shadow does experience a higher percentage of “rain days.” In this time, a constant cloudiness and light shower is like a faucet drip or encyclopedia of breezes. It is a perennial hail-haze, one that seems to blotch out time, space, and all matter.

Like something out of J. G. Ballard, the perception of consistent foul weather and the performance of its avoidance engenders a sometimes surreal sort of micro-social recess in the Emerald City. This is a time when coprophagic grins dance like trash-happy gulls, a time when you see some truly upsetting and/or wacked-out shyt on Third.

Naturally, though, Seattle’s seasonal siesta also provides fertile ground for indoor re-creation, of which there are, of course, numerous thankless vectors. At the top of the break appears Robot!, the latest from Seattle’s very own Never Anything, c/o OMNIVM. Possessing precise magnitude and direction, Robot! also retains a certain whimsy and playfulness. This endows it with a necessary human signature that thankfully clouds any overweight themes.

So, is that a question or a comment? Regardless, it all begins now, before the drama happens, with rhetorical exercise “Who Are The Parents, Here?,” introducing the record’s rich palette of glacial synths and blippy-rhythmic start-stutters. Timbre and time signature so obfuscated it could be anything, an aura, or homework, or it could be your next screen-induced memory lapse. Robot! organically liquidates itself with novelty to remain fresh at each movement.

This is the part where you probably expect me to talk about A.I. And so consider “Human or Mechanical Hands?” Starting with a multilayered synth plucked straight from Rosecrans, the sketch achieves ascent with a moderate vibrato, coupled with a slow-bumping grind. As far as sequencing goes, it’s like nothing before or after it, staking an individually-earned place in Robot!’s sonic toolkit. Regurgitated radio chatter babbles to a froth on the next track, “They Don’t Like Psychojazz,” recapitulating some whispered digital-oral phylogeny as it signs on and off. It’s the only unambiguously human voice on the whole record. Each track provides something slightly different while making a logical next step from the last.

In this way, Robot! benefits from cohesion, indicating a considered and apropos artificial nature. Likewise defined by an un-lyrical sense of humor (e.g., “All Robots Watch Clockwork Orange”), the following tracks, too, remain slippery while wet. And yet the record lacks defined hooks; it’s more of a freewheeling exercise in rhythmic improvisation and general instrumental provocation.

Technological portraits emerge like pale ghosts, but stubbornly refuse to reveal meaning in any self-reflexive way. Unpredictable variations on the face and form give light to the compositions, but the ciphers themselves do not stand on their own; each one only makes sense in the context of its genus. And so Robot! aspires to singularity, but really comes off more like grey goo; there is no tragic climax. Like a libretto, this product of Seattle’s regular rain-check follows Asimov’s laws along the barest geometries of time and space, making for an adequate expression of life before the future.

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