The Halloween season is upon us! “But,” you might stutter, “It’s still September! Halloween isn’t until October!” That’s the sort of negativity we don’t need around here!
At any rate, just in time to start the spooky season right, we get a new release from Northern Irish musician Alpha Chrome Yayo ominously entitled Dead Air.
Before I delve into the album itself, it would be worthwhile to take a quick look at the artist thus far. ACY (as he is often called) is an artist of much multiplicity. He definitely has some roots in synthwave (2018’s “The Last Stand of TJ Lazer” is one of the best Outrun tracks ever made), but he’s never been content to stay in one sound, nor does he express any sort of antipathy toward those sounds. Genre to him seems neither an oasis to cling to for safety nor a cage to lament, but a box full of toys to play with or discard as he wishes.
His skill with instrumentation and talent with production and songcraft indicates the experience of a seasoned professional with many years of training, practice, and care for craft, but often, he’ll utilize them with an almost childlike whimsy that is both impressive and infectious. You get the feeling that he’s having fun surprising himself with where his music goes and we, the listeners, have fun coming along for the ride.
His references are miles wide, making accessible pop culture references one minute, referencing obscure art and artists in his work the next, but never with any sort of pretentiousness. His deep cultural cuts seem shared with a feeling of “check out what I found! I hope you love it, too!”
Sonically, he’s not afraid to be experimental, to push boundaries, and to take chances, but at the heart of all that is an accessibility to his sound that says “This may not be what you’re used to, but if you relax, and join me, I bet you’ll find stuff in it you'll love.” His gift for melody, which pervades his whole discography, provides an anchor for the listener that makes hanging on through even his more extreme audio excursions a joy.
This brings us to Dead Air. After exploring everything from chiptunes, jazzy chillwave, and subjects as disparate as golf and cooking, a horror album might seem a bit out of left field, but to those who have been following ACY’s trajectory, a love letter to those ghastly and horrific videotapes we grew up with hits a very sweet spot. Not content to just reference those sorts of movies in a winking sort of way, ACY, in a very ACY way, proceeds to craft stories with the same creep factor as the chillers we enjoyed in our youth (and, hopefully, still do today)!
After a brief intro to set the stage, we are treated to the spooky industrial grind of the title track, which uses the same robotic actors ACY has used before, formerly to much comedic effect, to create a story that is, this time, downright terrifying. A tale of strange noises, weird voices, seemingly possessed electronics, and a radio show that goes terribly, horribly wrong makes this song especially creepy, and sounds that sound discordant at first become a melody that keeps this song and the attendant terror stuck in your head.
If a classic pop song from the 1970s were possessed by a demon inside your TV, it would sound a lot like “Drowned In 120ft Of Suffocating Static.” A classy, loungy melody gets grabbed by the throat and twisted into something pleasantly horrific as the staticky demon voices from inside your TV sing you a lovely tune about you being slowly consumed by the frightening visions it displays late at night.
“Cathode Ray Chewed” is an instrumental with a groovy dance beat and ACY’s prowess as an axeman (In this song, at least I mean guitarist, though literal axes may come up before the album is over).
There have been many funk slow jams to use a talkbox to set the scene for late night living room action, but “Dissolver” may be the first time it was used for horrific effect. We get the disturbing image of sitting in front of the TV and slowly melting into a puddle of liquid human. Metaphor or literal, the horror is undeniable, as is the melody.
A pause for a classical music interlude, namely a cover of Franz Liszt’s
“Liebesträume No. 3” mixes the chill with the chilling in a way that provides a brief respite from the horror while still maintaining the mood. ACY’s choice of this piece works well as it is simultaneously soothing and just a little bit insane.
The insanity continues through the utter raging madness of “Bloodthirsty Little Imp” and the gothic grind of “Black Noise.” “Radio Smack” sounds like one of those 1980’s Breakdancing tracks, but this time, the only thing that’s Breakin’ is your mind!
If my previous statement that ACY has eclectic tastes needs receipts, consider that he follows up that hip hop number with a take on Tchaikovsky's “Slavonic March, Op. 31” and then a vaporbot performance of Emily Dickinson’s “I Felt A Funeral in my Brain.”
The devilish loopy funk chaos of “Coffin Full of Cables” is one part dance jam, one part Phantom of the Opera performance. It’s fun to imagine a phantoms, masked and tuxed ACY poised at his organ, bringing this operatic dance floor filler for the damned to life.
If one combined a spooky lullabye with the sounds of raining glass, possibly from the screen of a thousand old televisions, “Shards” might be what you’d hear.
Stated as a reimagining of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” ACY’s “Rhapsody In Black” combines the dark sensibilities the project demands with his aforementioned whimsy to bring a hauntingly dark atmosphere to the song, as if the beloved classic were being played by the mischievous hands of a demon.
“Bunker 47”...wow…”Bunker 47”...I’m just going to leave this one for you to figure out, but I want to see the movie of this story.
ACY has mentioned his love of Zappa, and, to be honest, “Jazz From Hell” might not be a bad descriptor for “The Last Transmission.”
Each song on this album stands as its own thing, but upon repeated listens, you begin to get the idea that there’s a narrative threaded through the whole thing. Transmissions, nightmares, horrifying transformations, losing control of one’s self. This story culminates in “The Black Broadcast,” in which a stalking rhythm transforms into a frenetic driving beat. The exact story that’s going on throughout Dead Air is up for interpretation but I’m going to enjoy trying to figure it out for years to come.
Alpha Chrome Yayo has made a horror album that is seriously creepy, but like the best video nasty, also manages to be fun. The listener goes on a real wild ride on this one, and the lyrics, the sounds, and the structure manage to combine songcraft and world-building into a truly remarkable work of bloodcurdling art.