“Your official diagnosis is schizophrenic psychosis…”
drones a machine on the title track of Escape, the new EP from Tense. Sounds cool. Sounds ominous. But am I tense?
Words mean something to me. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I do. So when I’m given the promise of schizophrenic psychosis, I kind of expect to experience the auditory equivalent of madness, paranoia or something like it. But Houston duo Tense don’t seem too interested in exploring these states in their new EP Escape. They’d rather tease me than drive me to escape.
After an acclaimed tour opening for Nitzer Ebb in North America and a prolific production for Desire Records, Tense know they need to deliver.
The title track Disconnect Myself is five minutes of electronic oppression. A mechanised voice speaks of the four walls that surround him. Female backing vocals interject, adding a little life to the drone, but I’m struggling. The various voices want to escape. But there’s no fire, just statements; words from machine-like voices. Being patient, I run with it. I want to. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. Maybe the confusion I’m experiencing is intentional. Am I already in their dystopian world? In a way I want to escape, but not in the way Tense would like. Surely they don’t want to bore me?
I’m waiting for something more emotive, then track two kicks in: Body Conscious. I immediately get images of the bar scene in Tron Legacy. I see latex-clad figures strut a transparent dance floor in platform boots looking out over a super-highway. I’m feeling something. It’s cold, it’s… robotic, but at least I can feel. I want more.
As Pulse Beat kicks in, the gear shifts down and the drone returns. “I see familiar faces doing very unfamiliar things.” The promised schizophrenia returns, but nothing is delivered, save more empty words.
“There’s always someone watching me no matter where I go.” This isn’t the future, this is now. This isn’t schizophrenia, this is modern life. So where’s the danger, the altered state of consciousness promised in the opening lines that would fuel the escape of the EP’s title?
In any dystopia there are cries, there are wails of pain, for freedom – for life. All I hear is dead acceptance: “A prisoner in my own skin” or “Everyone violates public space.” While the voice of authority states, “We’ll stop at nothing to get what we want.” We’ve heard this before.
When Pull the Strings creeps in a city comes to mind. I see Tron again, and Blade Runner. If this is a soundscape, this is their best piece. Finally, I’m starting to get it. The industrial sounds, the low bass, the loops and synths. Tense could easily score a sci-fi movie. What they have delivered isn’t a collection of songs, but a soundscape. Only this soundscape is lost without its visuals.
I felt this most profoundly in the closing track, Unmanned Cars. I quickly saw alleyways and footsteps, a killer’s bloodied hand, a dead body. Throughout Escape images often sprang to my mind, but they weren’t maddening. They didn’t create a sense of someone desperate to fight for escape. They created only the monotony of that world. They set, at least for me, a high expectation with their opening lines and didn’t deliver.
Only after listening to all five tracks did I check the artwork and see the computer-cube city cover-design in hellish red. So the alleys and towers weren’t just my imagination. They were planted there. Their synths did work.
That said. While I saw their imagined city, I didn’t feel it. When the soul is crushed, it fights back. Whether in 1984, Brave New World or The Matrix, there needs to be a beacon, someone who carries the light. Whether that beacon succeeds or not is another question, but without this light, there is no heart. There is only death. And Escape had no light, no passion, no pleas. It showed only the spark of a world, one in need of flesh.
Tense are set to tour Europe this September. If you’re a director in need of an other-worldly soundtrack, call these guys. Given the right direction, they could drive us all mad. Maybe then we’d want Escape.