Those already familiar with the ever-growing catalogue of Assemblage 23 releases will surely need no introduction to ‘Endure’, which marks the eleventh album release from Seattle-based song-writer, vocalist & lyricist Tom Shear. For those not yet familiar, it’s well worth your time checking out the previous albums – throughout the years of chatting with people at various clubs, gigs and festivals, A23 has more often than not appeared on most people’s favourite EBM/Futurepop artists list and with very good reason.
Having received the standard edition to review but already purchased the Deluxe Edition, this review will cover both the main album and the bonus CD.
Opening with an instrumental, title-track ‘Endure’ features expansive, icy pads and cold, slightly distorted leads to add a dash of atmosphere, which sets the tone for the first vocal track on the album.
‘Afterglow’ is punchy with driving synth melodies and an uplifting lead, whilst lyrically Tom sets the scene with his signature metaphorical depictions of his chosen subject – on this occasion it’s the moment our world comes to a cataclysmic end.
‘Bravery’ features classic synthesis, minimal composition and uplifting leads, whilst the lyrics are typically filled with a pure, raw honesty and openness. The minimal approach to production, together with the tone and melody line of the chorus lead results in the song having a slight VNV-like ring to it, at least it does to me anyway.
My favourite track has to be ‘Salt The Earth’ as it takes me back to the dark, brooding melodies of Tom’s earlier works but moving forwards with slick, impactful production and rich synth textures. This is up there with past favourites ‘Ground’, ‘Document’ and ‘Let Me Be Your Armor’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was in their tour set. A simply flawless track from an already strong showing for this album so far.
Next up are ‘Static’ and ‘Call The Dawn’, both gradually slowing the tempo down a little and providing room for a more reflective lyrical tone to take over from the short, snappy phrasing of the up-tempo material. I usually find Synthpop & Futurepop “ballads” to be largely sparse with the vocals offering only a simple message that does very little to engage or mentally stimulate the listener. Compare this to Assemblage 23, where I’m listening intently to a very poignant, thought-provoking message and it becomes obvious that there’s as much value in these tracks, if not more-so, as there is with the more up-tempo, danceable songs.
The song ’Butterfly Effect’ is pretty self-explanatory and as someone fascinated by cause and effect and karma, it goes without saying that this is a great song to listen to intently. The observations described in the lyrics, combined with the flow of the vocal phrasing and the song-writing are also thoughtfully and intelligently crafted.
Like ‘Salt The Earth’, ‘Barren’ is another classic A23 track. Full of hooky, driving synth melodies, deep basslines and dark lead melodies, alongside poignant, introspective lyrics; with that mix of musical ingredients, if this song was a cocktail I’d definitely be drinking it.
Coming towards the close, ‘Grid’ offers something a little different. This is straight up retro 80s-style synthwave with a rich tapestry of throwback synth string pads and a solid, galloping bassline. Lyrically, this song touches on a subject familiar to those aware of Tom’s musical side-project ‘Surveillance’, which includes our false perception of so-called “freedom“, how we are being influenced by controlled media and led by secret governments, whilst every aspect of our lives are being monitored and recorded.
Ending on up-tempo song ‘December’, the subject matter switches full-circle back to the beginning of the album… the end of everything. Ideal for listening on repeat, which I don’t mind admitting I’ve done a lot of over these last couple of weeks.
As for the bonus CD, it’s largely made up of remixes, with the exception of two non-album tracks. I won’t go into detail, but here are my highlight picks of the remixes that I would recommend in addition to the main album.
‘December’, remixed by Neuroticfish
‘Salt The Earth’, remixed by Angeltheory
‘Bravery’, remixed by Solitary Experiments
‘Ignorance’, remixed by Mr. Kitty
Moving on to the non-album tracks, whilst ‘Ignorance’ is by no means listenable, it’s not as strong as the main album tracks, though it’s pleasing to hear the odd peppering of those signature, fluttering arpeggios, often featured more prominently in A23’s earlier material. There is a playfully sarcastic tone to the words, with tongue firmly in cheek, and it’s refreshing to hear a different side of Tom’s personality here, even though there is a serious message underlying it.
‘Goliath’ packs a punch with an energetic tempo akin to ’Infinite’ and ‘Maps Of Reality’. This is classic Assemblage and is by far the stronger of the two non-album tracks. Having read some of Tom’s commentaries on social media in reaction to news reports of various human atrocities this year, both domestically in the US and across the world, it’s no surprise to me that the lyrics seem to be of a more frustrated nature, with a little disappointment and disgust in there for good measure.
The main album itself is practically a no-brainer for any A23 fan and I would certainly recommend songs and albums, including this one, to anyone not familiar with Assemblage, but has a broad-minded taste, especially for Electronic music and anyone who appreciates engaging, thought-provoking lyrics.
Unless remixes really aren’t your thing, for the minimal extra cost of the additional bonus material, it’s well worth purchasing the Deluxe Edition.
My fix has been satisfied for now… that is until Tom is pestered by his fans all over again and begged to slave away on his next release. So, until we start seeing teasers of new songs I’ll be wearing out ‘Endure’ for a little longer!