Sunday, August 16, 2015

Zrbo Reviews: Psy'Aviah's The Xenogamous Endeavor

Belgian based Psy'Aviah continues to lurk around the periphery of the electronic mainstream with output that sounds solid but doesn't ever receive much buzz. It's a real shame, because with each album the act continues to deliver with more consistency by diversifying their sound. Released last year, but only having reached my ears recently, Psy'Aviah's newest album, The Xenogamous Endeavor, is really quite excellent.

I first became aware of Psy'Aviah a few years ago when I somehow stumbled upon them while browsing YouTube. Based out of Antwerp, what initially drew me towards the band was that it was an electronic/EBM/industrial band fronted by a female. In the male dominated genre of EBM, Psy'Aviah sounded like a breath of fresh air. Front woman Emélie Nicolaï wasn't just your typical Euro-sounding female dubbed over some trance music. Songs such as "My List" and "Song of Independence" were personal and distinctly feminine (the former is a song about what the singer is looking for in a man), a far cry from the usual shouty-growly vocals of males in the genre. Long time readers of this blog may remember that I chose Psy'Aviah's cover of Shakira's "Timor" as one of my favorite songs of 2012.

Occasionally, to add some variety, the band would employ a guest vocalist. There was also some guy who was part of the group who would sing on a track or two, but I never paid much attention to him.

Turns out I didn't know a hell of a lot. That "guy", Yves Schelpe, is the actual brains behind the outfit. On The Xenogamous Endeavor Emélie is nowhere to be found (left the band perhaps?), instead replaced by a revolving door of various Euro-sounding females. And though I just dissed those generic Euro-sounding females, the thing is, strangely, I really like this album.

This is Psy'Aviah's most diverse album yet. It starts with the energizing "Long Way", an energy building song that sits somewhere between electro-industrial and pop, that gets the album moving. Then it moves into "Sacrifices" which may be my favorite track. There's a confidence and flow in the way guest vocalist Mari Kattman delivers those verses that's just addicting. At first it was just another song, but with repeated listens it's gotten stuck in my head and refuses to dislodge.

The middle of the album is perhaps its weak point. "Our Common End" and "Bevor Ich Sterbe" are perhaps a bit too slow while "Deliverance" tries a bit too hard to sound edgy.

At two-thirds through, when your typical album might begin to lose steam, comes a streak of terrific songs leading to the end, each one remarkably different than the last.

That streak begins with "On My Mind", a mid-tempo number that begins with vocalist Lisa Nascimento repeatedly whispering "Hours/minutes/seconds/days". The first few times I found this terribly annoying, partly because of her peculiar accent. Now, however, I enjoy how it serves as the buildup to that slinky beat, plus I like how the whispering is incorporated later on when it's brought back to match the beat.

But it only gets better from there. Next up is "The Parts You Can't See". Reminding me a bit like a track by the band Air, the song has a nice, chill feel with the comparisons to Air only exacerbated by a french-sounding chanteuse (Kyoko Baertsoen) on vocals.

Jumping genres again, next is "Never Enough". The best way for me to describe "Never Enough" is to say it sounds uncannily like a Lady Gaga cut. Even the vocal delivery could be mistaken for Gaga. It's dance mixed with pop, and sounds great.

"Get Your Tickets" is a spoken word, almost hip-hop track that deploys more F-bombs per second than should reasonably be allowed. It reminds me greatly of KFMDM's 1996 song "Dogma", which also utilized a confident, assertive female spoken word track to great effect. Here it's by Suzi Q. Smith. It's absolutely not safe for work.

And just like that, the album immediately shifts gears to a stoned beat and a wailing guitar with "Last of Us". Finally the album ends with the instrumental "In Uthenera (Leliana's Song)". It really sounds like it's from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, complete with harp and female vocals singing in a language I can't identify (elvish? gibberish?).

It's a shame that Psy'Aviah already used the title Eclectric for one of their previous albums because The Xenogamous Endeavor couldn't be more eclectic. It's a mishmash of industrial, EBM, and euro-pop, with a dash of hip-hop and electro-clash thrown in for good measure. The band began firmly in more industrial territory and has been slowly experimenting around with different sounds with each album. One of their previous albums, Introspection/Extrospection had hinted at experimentation with different genres, but with The Xenogamous Endeavor they've really gone all out.

Overall this is an absolutely solid album and I highly recommend it. 5/5 Zrbo points.

Highlights: Sacrifices, On My Mind, The Parts You Can't See, Get Your Tickets

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