Dec 2011 05

VNV Nation - AutomaticVNV Nation
Category: Electro / Synthpop
Album: Automatic
Stars: 3
Blurb: Delving further into melodic synthpop, VNV Nation’s latest album may offer very little that can be considered new, but it’s as energetic and intelligent as ever.


In many ways, VNV Nation set the standard for where electro/industrial music would proceed. From the band’s earliest garage-based EBM/industrial dance beginnings less than two decades ago to becoming the originators of the Virus and software-based futurepop style to trance-inspired hard electro, Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson have steadily taken VNV Nation through several stages of evolution (strangely in pairs of albums), now culminating in an unabashedly synthpop-oriented sound that their previous album, Of Faith, Power, and Glory took us. Firmly set in this highly melodic and electro-pop sound, Automatic continues to give listeners the same futurist/humanist themes VNV has explored from the start.

Never ones to sacrifice elements of epic grandeur befitting a classical symphony, “On-Air” begins the album appropriately with sounds of radio chatter and electronic signals akin to Morse code as an electrified string section gives us a repeating three-chord refrain that immediately shifts to a more somber tone as a mournful piano fades in, sounding like the buildup to a massive overture that never quite arrives. Then “Space and Time” resounds with a buzzing synth arpeggio and a thumping beat before Harris’ voice soars in, singing high and boldly but just slightly quivering under the weight of the emotional content of his lyrics, or perhaps his inability to actually reach those higher registers; who can say? Now the stage is set as other songs on the album take on a similar texture of rather simplistic but effectively rhythmic beats and layers of stuttering sequences and ambient pads creating tapestries of dense electro-pop as the lyrics reference brave new societies and technologies a la Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or the steampunk-like ideals at the turn of the last century. This is most evident “Streamline” and “Resolution,” the latter perhaps sounding the closest to the old-school EBM sound of VNV’s earlier years. The same can be said for “Photon” with its trancelike pads hovering atop simple beats and bass lines, creating an aura that evokes “Solitary” or “Ascension,” albeit with a crisper production. The album’s de facto pre-release single, “Control” is the most abrasive song on the album as organic drums march beneath caustic monotonic synths as Harris’ infuses just a dash of grit and bite to his voice, while “Nova” adds some baroque atmosphere with a slow and sullenly emotional melody that recalls Wendy Carlos’ synthesized versions of Bach in the ’70s.

If anything negative can be said of Automatic, it is quite simply that it is VNV Nation by-the-numbers. There’s discernibly very little presented here that Harris hasn’t already explored on past albums, either musically or thematically… or if there is, it’s not readily apparent to the listener. Indeed, it is a diverse album, full of melody and just enough hints of the past that longtime fans will always find something to behold, but it may not be much to sate those who have been critical of VNV’s lighter sonic modes and yearn for the band to return to the abrasive anger of Praise the Fallen or Empires. But nostalgia aside, Automatic is not a bad album by any stretch and still yields some excellent songs, and these are indeed songs and not just fodder for the dance floor. That has always been VNV’s greatest asset: the strength of the message, the intelligence of the lyrics, and the power of the music to convey them.
Track list:

  1. On-Air
  2. Space and Time
  3. Resolution
  4. Control
  5. Goodbye 20th Century
  6. Streamline
  7. Gratitude
  8. Nova
  9. Photon
  10. Radio

VNV Nation Website
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VNV Nation SoundCloud
Anachron Sounds Website
Purchase at:
Amazon CD
Amazon MP3
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Control – from the album “Automatic” by VNV Nation

VNV Nation – Automatic (Snippets) by VNV Nation

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