Review: Factory Floor – 25 25

Not unlike some of their fellow DFA recording artists, it can be difficult to tell whether Factory Floor are essentially an elaborate in-joke. The group has declared that 25 25, their first album since the departure of founding member Dominic Butler, is an exercise in “ultra-minimalism”. Well it’s not as if their 2013 self-titled debut sounded like a Skrillex remix of mathcore metal maniacs The Dillinger Escape Plan, is it? No, rather it was a critically-acclaimed, shiver-inducing collection of post-punk dance music made with icy synths and cracklesome beats.

Clearly, even that frosty, emotionally reserved record was far too bold, brash and colourful for the stomachs of remaining members Gabriel Gurnsey and Nik Colk. So how have they distilled their sound further into the realm of ultra-minimalism? Does 25 25 consist of each member holding down the same single keyboard note for the best part of an hour? Mercifully not, although that would’ve been quite a statement, and probably a stronger one than they’ve actually managed to make here.

The album was inspired by the pair’s increasing number of late night/early morning club shows, and to be honest that’s the environment where many of these dormant compositions could have remained. Many of these tracks, which are not so ultra-minimalist as much as ultra-repetitive, simply refuse to evolve or develop, only doing so in the most barely noticeable and subtlest of ways. In a live setting, such monotonous techniques work more successfully, where the influence of booze, pills or even the mere intoxicating effect of attending an event surrounded by fellow sweaty revelers can hypnotize you into transcendental reverie, and where Factory Floor’s mechanical music can move you physically even if it fails to do so emotionally. At home or out-and-about on your headphones, 25 25 is more likely to provoke you into picking up your smartphone to find out what other, more interesting things are going on in the world.

Sadly, the album sees Factory Floor reducing their vocal contributions to one-word or one-sentence mantras, and not particularly pleasurable ones at that (“work, work, work…” repeats the opening track as if the band have been asked to define the principal subject matter of the cartoon strip Dilbert), or plastered in such heavy effects as to render them virtually incomprehensible (see ‘Slow Listen’). The lyrics of ‘Dial Me In’, meanwhile, consist of irksome contemporary phrases such as “awkward”, “chill out” and even “sad face” (LOL) recited in a whisper so lacking in energy it rivals the most strung-out efforts attempted by Bobby Gillespie on Primal Scream’s late-90s comedown album Vanishing Point. It’s feasible that this track was intended as some kind of social commentary on inarticulate millennial apathy or something, albeit delivered in such an inarticulate and apathetic way as to match the uninspiring ennui of the very subjects it conceivably attempted to critique in the first place.

The livelier house track ‘Relay’ is similarly let down by its vocal tics, the irritating “oh” noises and whining “I know where we’re going to stay” refrain distracting from the music’s playful synth wonks. The voice on ‘Wave’ is less disruptive but this hardly serves to free up Factory Floor to make their music shine. It opens with the sort of squeaking fart sounds you accidentally make when trying to tie up the end of a balloon, after which it resembles the bass-heavy dialing tone from an unattended mobile that you really wish somebody would answer before the track’s exhausting 9-minute running time is over.

Despite its impenetrable lyrics, the aforementioned ‘Slow Listen’ is among the record’s stronger moments. With its polyrhythmic tip-tappery, squidgy electronics and hazy dub effects, it could be a Mr Oizo remix of some lost trip-hop obscurity, and that’s meant in a good way. By far the most interesting and enjoyable tune is the album’s penultimate number, which does flirt with blossoming into a rave-friendly LCD Soundsystem-style smash hit. It is named ‘Ya’. And its vocals? You guessed it, they repeat the word ‘Ya’ over and over again. But perhaps an interesting and enjoyable record wasn’t what Factory Floor were aiming for this time round. Perhaps they aspired to create something more important, something intellectual and meaningful, like dance music’s equivalent of Steve Reich’s breakthrough classical experiments with minimalism and repetition. Perhaps. Or perhaps they’re just having a laugh, at various people’s expense. Either way, you can’t help feeling that Dominic Butler was wise to escape when he did.

Pre-order 25 25 via Bandcamp.

Written by JR Moores