This review was written for Cyclic Defrost, please visit their site.
“It’s a dark day,” sings Randolf Reimann over a simple synthesiser melody as squelchy percussion gains pace. His words echo as the line concludes “on the strip” and is repeated through the song with some variation but the constant reiteration works in a pop way to lodge itself in your head.
In one of those serendipities that probably only make sense to the person observing them, this Wolf Shield album was playing as I chatted on Facebook with a producer. We were discussing making pop electronic music and he was encouraging me to experiment with short vocal loops after sharing a track based around three words that I couldn’t stop repeating: “One, two — barbecue!”
The songs on Residuum work in a similar way and listeners will find themselves likely to intone about a dark day on the strip. That song also brings to mind Randy’s performance in a Scout hall outside Wagga Wagga mid-2015 when 'Dark Day' opened his set.
The tempo of the track immediately called for dancing but, of course, no one did as Wolf Shield was the first act on the bill and the afternoon light showed what an unlikely venue it was for live electronic music. So we sat around on plastic chairs and watched.
“How did we let it get this bad?” Randy asks as the second track ’No More’ opens with a faster melody and percussion. The layering of short loops, such as drum parts and arpeggiated synthesisers, build the tracks through repetition and the approach mirrors the vocal delivery in seemingly looping short phrases. The fact they’re not actual loops, coupled with rising effects in places like the echo to provide variation, brings a richness often missing from electronic music.
The other richness in listening to this album though, is more sentimental for me. I’d met Randy the year before in 2014 while attending a RealArtWorks workshop outside Tabulam that led to the ‘Nothing Is Useless’ exhibition at Lismore Regional Gallery. In 2015 the workshop at Oura was preparing new content for an exhibition at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, where Randy would contribute audio and perform with his other musical act, Tralala Blip.
The night before Randy's performance in Oura, we’d been talking late into the night about electronic music gear. He’d mentioned having been in a Sydney hardcore band in the 1990s and that samples from tapes of rehearsals had found their way into his current music. It was intriguing yet something of a bumsteer as, even having listened to the album numerous times, there’s very little to identify this material.
There are textures and drone-like hums and occasionally pitched-down vocal loops that might be echoes of his earlier punk band Massappeal, otherwise it’s not obvious. Just like it’s not obvious when listening to this electronic dance music with pop vocal delivery that Randy is punk.
The track ’Poor People Don’t Drive’ might be a giveaway of his anti-establishment leaning though. It varies the formula of looping a phrase with the echo missing from his vocal, replaced with a little reverb to make him seem more present.
The line about poor people resonates with the obvious ignorance of the 2014 comment from Liberal politician Joe Hockey that must’ve inspired it. As a poor driver based in regional Australia it still stings for me that the treasurer would think that raising fuel excise would be an equitable approach to taxation. I travel over a 100kms each day I drive to work and lately Randy’s track has worked its way into my head on those journeys.
It makes me happy to hear a political comment within pop electronic music. So much stupidity seems to echo in the media and then vanish. It’s good to hear that something like this got stuck into Randy’s brain and now he’s working to stick it into the brains of listeners too.
‘The Silver River’ has a kinda ‘80s sound, from the vocal inflection to the synthesised hand claps. When ‘Polarise’ follows it, with similar hand claps but heavier reverb, there’s a sense of the tempo slowing down and the production style shifting to decades earlier.
The focus on the drum machine as a compositional tool suggests its influence and I expect Wolf Shield started when Randy turned on his Tempest. It’s a sonic palette that can’t help but reference pop music from earlier decades but also the subversive influence that electronic music brought in the 1990s.
As the album progresses it maintains a cohesive feel through the apparent formula of short vocal and musical phrases. The rhythms are based on a 4/4 house feel but spiced up with the aforementioned hand claps and also those zap-like effects that make low toms sound like video games.
The “bonus track” ‘I Saw What You Saw (live)’ shifts to a 3/4 feel and pushes the formula over ten minutes, but otherwise a minimal approach is consistent throughout and demonstrates how less can be more in the hands of an experienced musician.
Residuum is a satisfying album that brings together a variety of influences, like the Ramones-like short-attention-span songwriting to the electronic dance music instrumentation. It’s an album that resonates with me for various personal reasons but I think that, even if you haven’t had the chance to meet Randy or see Wolf Shield perform, listeners will find tracks repeating in their heads.
It’s got a bit going on and rewards repeated listening.