Review: Doldrums, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

Sometimes you just have to abandon your anxieties and dance your pain (or crippling fear) away.

opinion byZACHARY BERNSTEIN < @znbernstein >

Fittingly taking its title from Henry Miller’s 1945 ex-pat meditation on modern America, Doldrums’ second album The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is a profoundly gloomy piece of noise pop. Airick Woodhead’s synth and sample-driven soundscapes are colored by themes of alienation, paranoia, and fear. “I’m sleeping in, in the age of unrest,” sings Woodhead on opener “HOTFOOT,” summing up the album’s ethos perfectly – the world is a disquieting place, and there’s very little we can do to change that fact. As the sound of the future, much of modern electronic music falls distinctly into either utopian or dystopian mindsets – The Air-Conditioned Nightmare conforms quite clearly to the latter. Woodhead’s musical expression very much sounds like a product of technological innovation, with its fluid and seemingly effortless collage of soundbytes, pulsating rhythms, and eerie vocals, but at times that devotion to modernity occasionally sacrifices a real sense of compelling melody or genuine pleasure.

There are several occasions on which this album does quite literally sound like the stuff of nightmares. “My Friend Simjen” is a disturbing slice of disco about technological addiction that sounds like “Revolution 9” covered by that rabbit from Donnie Darko. Woodhead’s nasal tenor stretches its limits over the squealing and squawking of “Blow Away” and “Industry City” as the lyrics touch upon loneliness, insomnia, and sex in equal measure. Yet, even in the record’s bleakest moments, it’s hard to not want to dance to Woodhead’s endless parade of shuffling beats and schizophrenic clatter. Opener “HOTFOOT” and the trippy “Loops” are the best tracks here – the former driven by a violent explosion of feedback and an exhilarating refrain, the latter propelled by its combination of serene synths and deeply danceable rhythm.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is ultimately an experience as disorienting as the sensations and emotions that Woodhead describes, strangely beautiful one minute and aggressively ear-splitting the next. “iDeath” and “Closer 2 U” approach a degree of ambient calm, but they are ultimately just quiet moments immediately before the next cacophonous storm. “Get out or get weird,” commands Woodhead on “Blow Away” – that attitude pervades Doldrums’ second album. You’ll either be on board with Woodhead’s experimentations or you won’t be. Sometimes you just have to abandon your anxieties and dance your pain (or crippling fear) away. B-