Imagine you are on a subway platform late at night and a black-clad stranger beckons you to follow them. You thread your way through the tunnels and emerge on to a derelict waste ground littered with burned out cars and discarded white goods. Off in the distance, under a single street light, you see a band playing. This band is The Bleak Engineers who, it’s easy to imagine, arrived through a time portal from the 1980s. It’s no surprise that in the early days of the synthesiser the ice-cool monophonic sound found a home in the post-war, post-industrial malaise of towns like Berlin, Manchester, Sheffield and London. Although synthesisers grew into great knob-covered beasts there are still plenty of bands like The Bleak Engineers that are thankfully in thrall to the early synth sounds of Gary Numan/Tubeway Army, John Foxx, Human League and the exemplars in the field: Kraftwerk.
The Bleak Engineers are a duo formed in Russia on ‘the melancholic snow of Saint-Petersburg’ with Svetlana Zombierella on bass and vocals and Alexander Moralez handling the electronics (including vintage synths and drums machines from the 1970-80s). You can feel a dystopian chill blowing through New Frontiers which is their first album together; a 50/50 mix of sung tracks and instrumentals blended seamlessly together. ‘Multidimensional Way’ opens the album in a pessimistically upbeat fashion with a dissonant synth line and flattened vocal delivery from Svetlana. ‘Introspecto’ is the first of the four instrumentals and it showcases the great interplay between analogue and digital with a Cure-like bass providing one of the two main tunes and a second bass line adding the song’s propulsion. ‘Amaryllis’ sees both sing; with Alexander taking the low haunted vocal and Svetlana adding a tune that could have been programmed for the Dietrich-Bot 3000. Bass features prominently again on ‘Audient’ with a lovely ascending-descending riff punctuated by the synth. ‘Existence’ is a slow build of crunchy synth-drums and pops of arpeggiated curlicues which give way to a Grace Jones-like vocal. ‘Nominal Rule’ has a spring-echo shimmer on the vocals these vibrate against the bouncing ‘Jew’s harp’ synth-sound and there is also a keyboard part half-way through that is spectacular in both its simplicity and its effectiveness. The album closes with two instrumentals: the moody discord of ‘Rain’ and ‘Scientific Silence’ which hurtles along at 168bpm like a robot train threatening to derail amidst keyboard washes and frenetic drums.
The Bleak Engineers tread a fine line between reproduction and innovation I think they successfully create their own brave new world. New Frontiers is as perfect as a Michelin starred meal, with exact proportions of ingredients metered out across its 34 minute running time. Both instrumentation and production are flawless and it’s as surgically crisp as a Kraftwerk record. This is molecular audiology at its best.
The album is out now and you can buy a digital version of the album from the Six Tonnes De Chair label and there are also limited numbers of the vinyl in both grey and (recently released) pink variants.
Review by Paul F Cook