VA: Snow Robots volume 3
Suction Records

Snow Robots volume 3 finds Jason Amm (aka Suction) and Gregory de Rocher (aka Lowfish), co-founders of Toronto-based Suction Records, once again proudly proclaiming their love for ‘Robot Music.' In the liner notes, they even include a generous list of keywords reviewers have used to describe the label's synth pop since its inception in 1997, some of which inarguably hit the mark: analog, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, drum machines, electropop, Giorgio Moroder, Human League, New Order, nostalgic, OMD, Kraftwerk, Soft Cell, and vocoder. Other keywords, like Autechre, Boards of Canada, and Tangerine Dream, seem tangential, or at least do so with respect to the music on display here. As Amm and de Rocher include no editorial commentary with the list, one wonders if they're in agreement with it, or whether they look upon the variety of responses their music has elicited over the years with a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek bemusement. No answer is provided, but there's no disputing the fact that Suction embraces (detractors would say exhumes) a genre niche which is becoming more uniquely its own and, judging by its schedule of future releases, will become more so in the year ahead. Part of the reason for this is that electronic artists like Autechre have abandoned their relatively straightforward, beat-oriented analogue beginnings for more experimental forms, whereas Amm and de Rocher shy away from such stylistic abstractions to instead fervently promote an earlier electronic style.

The major stumbling block, then, for Suction is to convince listeners that the label is not merely retro. While the label carries on with a musical genre that was associated originally with pioneers Warp and Rephlex in the early ‘90s, Andrew Weatherall, for one, argues that Suction ransacks the past to create an Electro New Wave music for the future. Naturally, Amm and de Rocher also contend that Suction not only represents an embrace of the past, but instead offers a forum for their music's resurgence today and times to come. In short, the label positions itself strategically to be seen as a midwife of sorts for an assumed re-emergence of melodic synth pop. In keeping with that theme, unlike the first two Snow Robots compilations released in 2000 which looked back upon the label's first three years of existence, the new one looks forward and highlights the label's coming year. The comp is therefore a promo of sorts, with seven tracks appetizers for future releases joined by six exclusives. The most conspicuous change is the greater presence of vocals, typically vocodered, on the new collection. Ultimately, Suction's claim to be future-oriented convinces more in terms of marketing, label production and planning, as the aural evidence certainly situates its music stylistically in a former era. Having said that, whether their music is future-oriented or retro is rather incidental, when obviously it's the quality of the music alone which either will argue for or against it, regardless of the associative era. And judging by incredibly crafted and melodic songs like Orgue Electronique's “The Plot” and Solvent's “For You,” the music is very good indeed.

Past Snow Robots contributors Lowfish, Solvent, David Kristian, GD Luxxe, Skanfrom, and Tinfoil Teakettle reappear, joined by new recruits The Mitgang Audio (Mitgang Bevilacqua), Orgue Electronique (Brian Chinetti), Laurent Boudic, and Black Turtleneck. (Incidentally, Amm and de Rocher's involvement extends beyond curating the release and creating Solvent and Lowfish tracks. The duo also constitutes Tinfoil Teakettle, and Amm pairs with Thomas Sinclair in Black Turtleneck.) Those expecting to hear elements of microhouse, glitch, or DSP will be disappointed, as will those looking for tech-house or Kompakt's Cologne sound. Snow Robots volume 3 is classic synth-pop, song-based machine music teeming with melodic hooks, admittedly a description that could just as easily describe Kraftwerk's music. Like so many, Amm and de Rocher are indebted to their German brethren, but, while the Suction style does emit a similarly glossy sheen, it's less grandiose, more relaxed by comparison. Highlights abound, including the soaring melodies and grinding bass synths on The Mitgang Audio's disco-flavoured “Minor Causes,” the melancholy pop of Lowfish's “Glass House,” the dark electro of David Kristian's “Lectrocured,” and the Futurism machine-funk of Laurent Boudic's “E=MC 2” (apparently recorded in 1981). Other tracks suggest that Suction's list of keywords needs to be expanded to include some new influences. While the vocals on GD Luxxe's funky “Compulsion” suggest Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, those on Black Turtleneck's “Store Front” sound like a curious vocal mixture of Soft Cell's Marc Almond and Brian Eno (circa Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)). The strongest track is Tinfoil Teakettle's manifesto-like “Think Like Us” which evokes Prince's “I Would Die 4 U” in its verses' declamatory style, and even inserts “You got it” from The Talking Heads' “(Nothing But) Flowers” into its chorus. “Think Like Us” is not only infectiously funky, it looks backward with affection while charting a powerful plea for a shared future—quintessential 'Robot Music' in an inimitable Suction style.

September 2003