In an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes, Tom Fec, aka Tobacco and the brains behind cotton-candy terrorists Black Moth Super Rainbow, promoted the virtue of analog synths, suggesting that “you’re literally hearing the actual current going through circuits, so it feels more real. … I think you need life in music, it gives it more soul.” While not traversing the similar Technicolor beatporn territory that Fec does, Dylan Ettinger operates under a similar guise, allowing his synthesizers to carry heavy weight, expanding dub roots into defiantly minimal cinematic gestures (and yes, the oxymoronic nature of pairing “minimal” with “cinematic” should not be lost). His tones and currents, seemingly cold at first blush, betray a complex undercurrent of anxiety and hurt … and likely other stuff. It’s hard to tell what he’s saying, as the vocals are totally cloaked in delay the whole time. It’s a cool trick, but it makes parsing lyrics difficult. (I’m not a big lyric guy anyway, so screw it.)
I do know that “Hairy Beautiful” sounds like a BMSR castoff title if I ever heard one, and I’ll leave Fec and co. alone as of now, because, seriously, there’s no comparison, just a passing similarity. But Ettinger spends most of his time exploring the spooky side of synth music, crossing synth pop with dub on his way to emasculate – or eviscerate, not sure which – his subjects. Maybe it’s backhandedly complementary in a hidden painting kind of way, but if you take the tape’s title literally, the command to “crucify your love” hangs there while you’re subjected to early sci-fi trance-enducing pulses, and you may be enticed to do what the title says.
That is really the worst-case scenario though. The sentiment may simply be directed at Hoosier basketball (when they’re losing), or J. J. Abrams’s handling of the Star Trek franchise, or whatever else Dylan ends up hurling epithets at.
So good lord then, Crucify Your Love continues where Lifetime of Romance left off, or maybe it brings the era to a close. If the latter, it depicts the great relational shitsmear into which romantic entanglement can evolve. It’s dirty and bleak, and the synths mimic horror scores or scenes of sci-fi danger, generating an all-encompassing mood as opposed to a cycle of emotion. But no matter how foul an attitude I’m supposed to have, I have the complete opposite reaction – maybe it’s the music or tech geek in me nerding out to brilliant synth lines, but man do I have fun with Dylan Ettinger releases, and Crucify is no different. The robotic movements and underwater bubbling at the fringes of “Beyond the Wall” elevate it well beyond mopey goth to truly thoughtful space dub – I can totally visualize the EQ levels pinging up and down as it plays, and I’m not ashamed of that. It’s a beautiful sight in my head.
Similarly, “Crucify Your Love”’s mad-scientist theremin synth effects render it caustic and acidic in the best possible way, conjuring cannisters and beakers and tubes and blown out black-and-white backdrops. Ettinger chants in his usual post-punk delivery, and the way he draws out “Crucifyyyyyy” is just plain eerie, a shivery call to violently jettison something once dear. “Dawn” comes closest to altering the mood and making me feel better about myself – it’s more contemplative than aggro, and it sort of sounds like its title, run through the Dylan Ettinger ringer of course, so that it’s more postapocalyptic than ray-of-sunshine-first-thing-in-the-morning. But that’s the point I guess – after the tumult, the next day turns out to be just a little less crummy than the one before, but it’s still less crummy, and the potential for dawn the following day to be even less crummy than that is pretty enticing. It’s a process, people, you know this, you will live and you will live with it.
Crucify Your Love is still an EP, though, less than 20 minutes of your time, and an undeniably cogent entry into Ettinger’s catalog, regardless of its place on the continuum. I keep coming back to his work for the synthesizers, ’cause dude’s got skill – he’s a master at this style, and he keeps getting better at it. It’s a fine place to start.
Head on over to his brand new website too, dylanettinger.com, to get a little more history and check out some hard-to-find stuff. Just don’t mention Purdue basketball while you’re there – you might actually find yourself on the wrong end of a crucifixion.
RIYL: Wet Hair, Sex Worker, Peaking Lights