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Thomas Leer

Emotional Hardware (Smitten Kitten)

By • Oct 13th, 2020 • Category: Album review

Two of Greenock’s most revered musical sons are sadly no longer with us – electronic pioneer Robert Rental, and Banshees/Magazine guitarist John McGeoch. And it must have seemed that Thomas Leer – a frequent collaborator with Rental back in the 1980s – had at least retired, given the ten year gap leading up to 2018’s ‘comeback’ release, ‘Dark Days Are Here Again’ – a 21 minute long Trump-sampling, techno-tinged opus.

But with a hiatus of almost two decades after 1985’s ‘The Scale of Ten’ – Leer’s last solo major label release – the biggest surprise is that we should have new material a mere two years after his most recent effort.

It’s a long album as well – six tunes here including the lead title track which clocks in at a full 12 minutes; a pulsating opener with sequenced beats and strange other-worldly sounds, it’s pure sci-fi. It breaks into two parts it seems, relative calm until halfway through before whatever rise of the robots soundtrack we’re party to reaches its climax and Leer (we presume) intones the proscribed advice: “Hold onto yourself or fall into despair / arm yourself with emotional hardware”.

Next up is ‘Dark Days which is as close as we get to a spacey dreamy single, not just because lasts a mere four minutes, but in that short space it bundles together quite a grab bag of sounds.

‘Factory Ghosts’ is aptly titled, though less for a record label of that era – that would be more ‘Industrial’ – but for the mechanical sounds, the blips and squelches, and perhaps a nod to Throbbing Gristle at their most accessible.

It’s an easy comparison to reference other bands of the era – Cabaret Voltaire or the Human League perhaps – but these more-revered acts can hardly be described as influences, as Leer is either a contemporary or a spiritual forefather for most electronic musician. It’s unexpected then that ‘Civilised Language & Thought’ is a chipper bouncy head-nodder, with another vocal that sounds for a second like a robot Edwin Morgan and snatches of RP BBC voices and little klings and klangs talking about how children (or maybe AIs) develop their language skills (we assume).

‘Over the Hills and Near’ could be a Moroder/Human League hybrid, definitely a floor-filler in the recreational quarters of newly-colonised planets. However, ‘Sculptured Modulations No. 1’ is more of a noisescape with processed beats, and you can hear the likes of Blanck Mass drawing from this legacy. This final track offers a curious end to proceedings, but Leer wasn’t one to do things by convention. Long may he continue.

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