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Symptoms David Stubbs , April 22nd, 2009 05:59

Hollywood couples are always advised, usually in vain, not to play alongside one another in movies as real-life relationships tend to make for chemical anathema on the big screen. Does the same principle apply in electronica? AGF, aka Antye Greie, and Sasu Ripatti aka Vladislav Delay are partners and this is their second album together.

The division of labour here appears to see AGF concentrate on vocals and Delay on providing a battery of electronic effects, a barnacled and upgraded version of synthpop, one with knobs on in abundance. AGF's vocals sound "phoned in", but not in the lazy sense — her vocals are deadpan, gauzed yet driven by a seething sense of emotional confine and enforced alienation ("I'm too intense for this world" "I no longer understand the concept of empathy"), sealed in some one-dimensional glass prison like the villains from the planet Krypton in the Superman series. "Look don't touch", AGF sings on 'Downtown Snow' and there is a feeling that for all the sparks that fly up on Symptoms, its two protagonists have forbidden themselves from physical contact, are kept apart in the mix.

The separation works, with the sense of frustration a creative tool. 'Connection' is all lingering half-melodies, reverb, competing percussive overmatter and the hiss and crackle of overheating machinery. On 'Outbreak', the electronics spit and scald, the needle hovers and threatens to snap in the red zone. 'Generic''s vertiginous Moog descends like a drill into the mix over and over, each time a little more worn from the impact. 'Congo Hearts' (the Congo crops up more than once in these rivers of lyrical consciousness), features a two-note synth motif which distresses, buckles and decays with each repeated use, like one of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops. Finally, 'In Cycles' is practically wiped out in its snowstorm of interference, its hyperactive drum machine almost inducing a coronary.

With so much antique synthpop currently in vogue, faithfully revisiting the Pac-Man robo-simplicities of the late 70s, albums like this (and the more lush, less abrasive Tesri by Barbara Morgenstern and Robert Lippok) are reminders that popular electronic music doesn't just have a past but a very active present, with its own expanded lexicon of FX which could only be conceived in this century — electric dreams do not have to be nostalgic.