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Johnny Heartbreaker
Cult Aesthetic Jared Dix , March 24th, 2022 09:54

Don’t be confused by the name, Johnny Heartbreaker are more industrial teethgrinding paranoia than rock’n’roll romance, finds Jared Dix

This just wandered in from nowhere with not much more than a quizzical look and a name tag on its chest. Quite the name too, Johnny Heartbreaker. Rock ‘n’ roll classicism joined at the hip with cliché, tattooed in flaming script. Cigarettes and leather trousers. The name is some kind of playful misdirection because the music here is an enigmatic noise-industrial-techno foundling. Electronic puzzles of unclear provenance and intent. Cult Aesthetics doesn’t abandon the beat, but it rarely rides one for fun. They crowd around and jostle you while rave ghosts haunt the shadows. It’s not dancefloor-friendly, and it certainly isn’t relaxing. More awkward than experimental, the tracks are filled with a nerve jangling instability. All wonky loops and sparkly fractured moments.

Opener ‘Tabs out’ is pulled along by a springy mechanical loop, sighing disconsolately, as its muffled, head-nodding beats start to stutter. The sweetly entitled ‘Spambots Give Me Love’ flicks the rpm up from 33 to 45, hitting the jittery, attention deficit, electro-glitch pulse of the album’s principal mood. Temporal slippage and teethgrind paranoia. ‘Oh, The Sound’ makes me think of Matmos without the clearly set parameters or human touch. There’s an AI-generated coldness about a lot of it. The regular vocal snippets are robbed of language, sliced into gobbets of noise. Retro sounds, drained of colour and pushed to their most brittle are thrown into the mixer. The results have a familiar texture but blank affect, like some sci-fi future-muzak machine tipping into meltdown.

The industrial beats and washed out electro pop of ‘Momentum’ recall Depeche Mode put through the grinder. This isn’t a heavily oppressive, dark side, bad vibes, sort of thing – at least not in a try-hard way. But anxiety, frustration, and swirling disquiet line its stomach. The sighing backdrop of ‘Part 3’ suggests transcendence, or dissociation, as someone punches a sampler in the other corner. On ‘Swarm Impulse’ a party is smeared by distance, drink, and drugs. By the time we get to ‘What Is This?’ everything is slurring, still busy but circling nausea on rubber legs.

If so far it’s been pretty much all tension and no release. Title track ‘Cult Aesthetics’ finally delivers some kind of dysfunctional party banger. At least, I’d dance to it. Hell, I’d play it out and clear the floor, which is why no one asks me to DJ anymore. Guaranteed crowd-displeaser. It doesn’t build so much as channel-hop but for once it finds its feet and holds onto a sense of unstoppable forward motion. With few clues to go on Cult Aesthetics seems to offer further pickings over the ashes of the last musical moment of the last century. It’s not nostalgia but it doesn’t dream of the future. Stuck here in limbo with the rest of us.