Album Review of The Sweetest Condition: We Defy Oblivion
I don’t have a lot of industrial synth-pop in my collection, but I’m not oblivious to originality and talent. Last spring, I reviewed The Sweetest Condition’s Edge of the World, gushing over its tight songwriting, tunefulness, power, and crossover appeal. Well, with We Defy Oblivion, Leslie Irene Benson and Jason Reed Milner have done it again.
There’s an interesting progression between albums. We Defy Oblivion, definitely dwells in a heavier neighborhood, with fewer forays toward the pop edge of The Sweetest Condition’s range. Again, though, the duo finds the monster hook in otherwise industrial pop. Leslie’s voice remains expressive and booming, when necessary, while tightly adhering to the songs’ requirements, resulting in genre-adhering music that can easily reach ears beyond its usual core audience.
In “Knock Us Down,” for example, the vocals are exceptionally staccato but their warmth keeps them from sounding inhuman, as can be the risk in this sort of musical cocktail. That particular song also sports a hypnotic synth rhythm and well-placed, not-too-simple drumbeat. The attention to detail includes thicker-and-thinner variations to the wall-of-synth theme buoyed by well-patterned song progressions. “Knock Us Down” is a microcosm of what The Sweetest Condition does best, which is why I mention it first, and it’s a catchy track, but it’s not necessarily even one of my favorites.
For pure industrial synth, the album opens strong with “Deconstructing,” with a recurring pop rhythm (which usefully moves between different positions on the keys) before the song bursts forth into its chorus. This song, in its chorus, is one of the few locations on We Defy Oblivion in which I can draw the Madonna comparison to Leslie’s vocals; it was more common on the previous album. Again, not necessarily a typical vocal capability among industrial synth-pop singers, but it speaks to the breadth of The Sweetest Condition’s musical toolbox.
Ah, but I promised you favorites. And the two cuts that reach farthest into my crossover-enjoying brain are “Faithless” and “Vices.” “Faithless” supports a hypnotically straightforward yet occasionally emotional vocal – and it’s the emotional infrequency that allows it to stand out so much – with a steady, catchy synth sequence.
“Vices,” meanwhile, utilizes another ear-catching, yet different, primary key sequence during the verses that explodes into the chorus. The music seems a bit edgy at times, building tension in the verses that releases powerfully during the chorus. It’s tied together with more emotional vocals, following the same pattern of tension and release. In this well-written, hooky song, the music itself is more suggestive than the lyrics.
The most all-out energy on this album likely comes in “Keep Turning Me On,” a full-on, fast-tempo, potential dance club-pleaser that will leave the listener breathless after a single listen. I can only imagine the dance-floor carnage. The song before it, “Knock Us Down,” for which TSC has a video, is just as relentless, but insists at a more manageable medium-fast tempo.
Perhaps the poppiest, most mainstream track on We Defy Oblivion is “Depths Of Hell,” not that the lyrics would suggest a softening.
A bit rougher but also memorable is the song “Nein Nein Nein.” The English-language verses suggest a rather rough evening to begin with, while the chorus implores “Ich will mehr, aber du sagst nein.” It’s supported by a stripped-down, rough-edged music bed befitting the lyrics.
Disc-ender “Unforgiven,” meanwhile, attempts to return the listener to a stable state. It’s a solid number, steadier than its immediate predecessor, and more traditionally, purely emotionally dark.
Once again, The Sweetest Condition delivers a solid collection of songs, a disc that will undoubtedly contain a few new favorites, if this is your genre. And an album that might surprise you if this isn’t. Personally, after how impressed I had been by Edge of the World, the bar for its follow-up was set exceptionally high, but with We Defy Oblivion Jason and Leslie have delivered an album that meets my unreasonably high expectations. It’s a helluva disc. I feel almost greedy for wondering what comes next.