Though Seattle may be better known for the grunge boom in the late Eighties and early Nineties, one of the city’s most enduring figures in the music scene there is Tom Shear. Since 1988, Shear has been making waves in the industrial music scene, though it took him over a decade for his project Assemblage 23 to gain the attention of record labels and release a debut album, 1999’s Contempt. A23 has been his main focus for the last two decades plus, and has brought Shear much acclaim in the industrial and EBM communities.
With A23’s ninth studio album Mourn, Shear shows that he can still go, making what he calls “melodic, danceable electronic music” with a futurepop edge and plenty of emotion. Melodic and melancholy is Shear’s modus operandi, and he executes it better than most, even this deep into his storied career.
We open with “Epiphany,” which sets the tone for the record right away: melancholy and bleak-sounding, but with an urgency and an energy about it. The snare has an unreal amount of reverb to it, as Shear sings about realization and things reaching a critical mass. The track has an undeniable sway to it, a danceable feel while pulling at the heartstrings, and it damn sure doesn’t feel like it does so for close to seven minutes. “Factory” is more upbeat, while discussing the feelings of machination and automation that we as humans are subjected to, and how this conditioning affects generations beyond our own. Things slow back to a mid-tempo pace on “Bloom,” with a bit more melancholy weight to it.
“Anxiety” sounds about as advertised, with an atmosphere mimicking sudden doom, an unease that may not be rational, but is nevertheless real. The first notes of “Confession” evoke memories of Depeche Mode, and those chimes are a lovely touch. It’s a strong offering, a heavy hitter of a track that comes seemingly out of nowhere, but feels so welcome. Things take a turn towards post-punk electronica on “Dissonance,” before coming back to true blue futurepop on “Welcome, Apocalypse.” It is very much a product of these trying times we live in, but it makes these times sound damn good, if we’re being honest.
“Could’ve” is a bit more overtly dark than the previous track, with choral synth work and a hook that will stick with you. It’s an interesting one to follow “Welcome, Apocalypse,” and it also dabbles in that bit of Depeche Mode vibe, complete with Shear employing a lower vocal range than what he has thus far. “Tragedy” has more heavy subject matter, in an oddly uplifting composition, no less. The snare is punchy, the looping synths hitting a stride early on, all to create a dance floor filler of a penultimate track. The closer “This House is Empty” deals in letting go, with a diminished percussion section and airy, light synths informing the images of the past burning in front of the persona, as the record comes to a close.
If melodic, danceable electronic music is Shear’s endgame, he has completely succeeded with Mourn. Every track brings something different, be it in the melody or the percussion, and even the bleaker, more depressing songs have a swagger about them that begs to let loose on a dance floor.
Mourn is available now via Metropolis Records.