Nina Kernicke is not a composer concerned with bombast. Her already developed (and superb) atmospheres and sinuous melodies are joined on her first full-length by a newly acquired sense of patience and interconnectedness. One song at a time, Kernicke assembles a thriller of a record that triumphs because of its unhurried development and thickly amassed tension.
It isn’t until “Dedalus,” the album’s fourth track, that Kernicke really lets her explosive side loose. The previous three tracks are something of a primer for the pseudo-dystopian aura for which All Sides is known. With a minimum of sources, dirty city-scapes and seedy, back-alley transactions are manifested and situated among a fast-moving and impersonal population of greedy businessmen, cautious detectives, and dirty street punks looking for a kick. All Sides’ music is far from impersonal, however. On the contrary, the music brings characters, locations, fears, and even suspicions to life with a great deal of ease. Before the title track’s explosive guitars and extended synthesizers slither their way among Kernicke’s populated rhythms, both “The Idea” and “Luv” establish an imposing and mournful background that radiates throughout the rest of the album. When “Dedalus” finally breaks the album open with an organic melody and seemingly endless guitar meditation, relief comes as a tangible and wonderful sensation.
Yet it is interrupted; the conspiratorial tone of a German speaker finds its way into the calm heart of the song and Kernicke includes the sounds of seagulls chattering away in the background to increase the sensation that whatever is happening in this album’s dark world, it’s just as real as the world in which we live. At this point Dedalus begins to feel like a narrative. The narrative was there when “The Idea” first started to play, but as in many good books and movies, Kernicke doesn’t immediately give away how all the various puzzle pieces fit together. “The Unfinished End of H.W.” is where Kernicke begins to draw her disparate ends together. The intrigue of spy novels and detective stories quickly solidify in the rush of its pattering rhythms and swelling strings, each movement in the song conjuring up the lightning-quick reflexes required of a man on the lamb or an investigator caught in a plot much bigger than he could possibly know. Each following track feels like a well-placed edit or narrative switch wherein the plot is moved along by an unexpected twist or omniscient switch in perspective. “Mistake” exhibits Kernicke’s ability to build believable and threatening environments out of sound whereas “Against the Sun” shows off her ability to write a sensuous tune that is equal parts sexuality and nervous suspicion.
Like many great dystopian fictions, Kernicke does not end her work on the most positive of notes. “Into the Sea” is a drone of resignation; imagining a hero at the center of Dedalus’ story, this particular track is the main character’s tragic failure to rise above the dark and constantly twisting machinations of the world Kernicke so expertly constructed in the opening songs. Both the title of this particular song and its overall mood remind me of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a book that ends with the female protagonist committing suicide by swimming too far out to sea. “Stay” concludes the album with the beating of an evil heart and the metallic echoes of cold indifference. Upon repeated listens, Dedalus emerges most firmly as an account of someone’s downfall. Drawn into a web too thick to escape, the imagined hero reaches for safety, but falls short and is hopelessly lost. But the fall isn’t the only attraction in this story as each song is ripe with minute and involving details. All Sides’ previous recordings were all fine examples of beat-driven electronic music, but Dedalus is an exceptional record that succeeds on many more fronts. It is one example of how vivid and intense a record can be without taking recourse to ostentatious measures. It is also a record with great hooks and a definite sense of direction and purpose.