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  Find a Place To Be Safe and The Sirens Sound  
  Collapse Under the Empire  
  Sister Jack Records  
Release Date:
  22.December.2009 and 4.May.2010  
Reviewed by:

Today's lesson is about the long-term benefits of procrastination. If you put something off long enough, it will eventually become relevant again. For example, if Brendan hits you up with a promo for a couple of guys out of Hamburg blending dark wave ambient bleats and beats with the swelling, pedal driven guitars of traditional shoegaze, you have a couple of choices. You can efficiently bang out a review, send it over to the sponge castle for edits and mark up and be on to the next assignment, or you can hem and haw for five months toying with intros, but never putting much down on paper. If you choose the former, all kudos to you. But if you choose the latter, eventually said Hamburgians will pop out another set and you can knock out two birds with one stone. Me, I'm a procrastinator at heart.

Last December the various state-side minions were over at PostLibyan's digs, doing our annual Festivus thing. He, Brendan, and I were hanging out talking about music, because that's what we tend to do. We were all into Jesu's Opiate Sun quite heavily at the time. This wasn't surprising for the others, but it was a bit out of my normative sweet spot. During that conversation, I mentioned that I was finding that I didn't really dislike ambient/shoegaze and drone music as much as I thought. Rather, I seem to like it just fine as long as it is deep, dark and angry. I'm not great fan of the ethereal, but throw a little low end bass in there and fuzz up those guitars a bit and suddenly I bite. Cocteau Twins, no. Jesu and Isis, yes. Go fig.

Anyway, a month or so later, Brendan forwarded me Collapse Under the Empire's second album, Find A Place To Be Safe. Released in late December 2009, I put ears to it sometime in February. The timeline is relevant here, because in the intervening months I'd stumbled from Jesu and Isis to Jesu+Isis, otherwise known as GREYMACHINE. Now, GREYMACHINE is another animal altogether, no doubt. It completely exits the realm of post-rock and shoegaze, tripping head-on into industrial noise. All of which is fine and good, but you need to understand where my ear-space was. Hearing CUtE (which is the chosen anagram for Collapse Under the Empire) for the first time when your head's buried in a raging pile of Justin Broadrick noise metal may not be the best way to generate a sympathetic listen. As a result, my first reaction to Find a Place To Feel Safe was distinctly middle of the road "meh". So I put it down and worked my way through the GREYMACHINE phase a bit.

In March and April, I came back to CUtE with a bit friendlier a frame of mind. The impressions were better the second time.

Find a Place To Be Safe kicks off with a mid-range baritone synth drone fed through a bit of tremolo, with a bit of higher pitched buzz mixed on top, introducing the album's opener, Captured Moments. A sweet little electric piano riff comes in almost immediately, complemented by very neat, clean guitars. The higher buzzed synth line cleans up a bit near the 30 second mark, and all the component parts start to build in your basic, traditional post-rock swell and recede style. The waves aren't as distinct or distinguished as you'd find in the genre's cousins, emo and punk. You don't get the sort of crashing breakers on the shore like you'd find in a Constellation Records outfit. The surf isn't particularly high on the seas of sound, there's not much chop in the water. Just an off-shore breeze to generate enough swell to create rolling waves and the natural work of the tides rolling in on a calm, empty beach.

Four minutes and change in, Captured Moments fades into Crawling, with a more edged guitar swipe, and again the bouncing, wavering tremolo and delays. Crawling is notably more up-tempo and the drum work gets heavier into the mix, clearly a guitar and drum shoegaze song more than the electronic opener. Crawling runs another four and half minutes, wrapping with a total stop on snapped out snare beats.

The third track, distinct and stand alone from the combined openers, is the title track. Again, we start with a subdued, low-end synth, get a cleaned up guitar - only a taste of distortion at all, and the waver of the tremolo is dialed down a bit as well - and build to the percussive kick. This is where you can start to hear how CUtE came to be identified, if only peripherally, with the post-metal/drone-core genre. The kick drum here is a lot less muddy than your standard fare metal double kicks, but it is most definitely working off the template. This isn't by any means as brutal as the metal sounds - not by any means at all - but the foot work is in the same technical ballpark. Seven minutes later, we fade and pause until Tranquility kicks in.

The gist of CUtE's sound is exactly thus. Each song works off of the theme of lower, darker toned synths overlaid with clean electric piano melodies, lightly fuzzed shoegaze guitar, all driven along snappily but less than brutally by just-this-side-of-metal percussive beats. It all makes for a fine listen. The duo keeps the phrases of any given riff concise enough to avoid the dreaded lands of jamming. Admittedly, I'd like to see the live set just to see how they pull it off outside of the studio. I'm guessing a good deal of this has to be samples and mixes, as I can't see how two guys could otherwise pull off this layered complexity. Track five, Angle of Incident is a favorite, as are tracks seven and eight, Far To The Past and A Smell Of Boiled Greens. I'd like to think that only Germans could even think to write a song entitled A Smell Of Boiled Greens. That just seems "deep of the Black Forest" to me, and the song itself is the most Euro-dance-goth the disc has to offer. At a buck-thirty-seven, it's also the shortest track by far. Track nine, Intelligence, has the most distortion of any of the guitar tracks.

During the time it took me to get off of my ass and write this meager review, CUtE, being efficient, artistically inspired Germans, turned out an entire third album. Released in May (pushed back to June due to distribution glitches), The Sirens Sound continue the work established on the debut (2009's Systembreakdown) and Find A Place To Be Safe. The Sirens Sound is a more electronic record which leans heavier on the synth and pianos than on the guitar swells of the first two, but they're not breaking the mold by any stretch of the imagination.

At the end of the day, I've found the entire Collapse Under The Empire catalog compelling. It took me a while to get into it, but that had more to do with needing to have the abrasions on my brain heal from my previous listening habits than anything else. Also, as I found a couple weeks ago, CUtE is surprisingly pleasant beach music. Especially beach-at-night music. I'm not sure I'd chase you down and beat you up if you tried to take it away from me, but all in all this is a well contained, artistically sound band, making precisely the kind of music they're feeling inside. I can't imagine American post-rockers wouldn't love the sound. Not earth-shattering, but five sponges easily.

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