VNV Nation possess a quality and control over their music that is a rarity now-a-days, especially within their specific genre of music. It’s always a treat for me to head over to Das Bunker or Bar Sinister and dance to their songs, because each is an experience in itself. Their latest album, Automatic, is no exception.
One of their major trademarks for each album is to produce lovely instrumentals for the first and last tracks, or in the middle if not at the end. Each song is ethereal, and always given a narrative context supplemented by a simple, yet appropriate title. The first track in Automatic is titled “On-Air”. The beginning half gives you the illusion that you are tuning into a channel on a vintage radio, occasionally losing the signal, the music fading into and out of static and over a barely inaudible talking of a male voice. After, the static gradually fades away as a somber, haunting melody that takes over the static, but not completely. The static breaks through in a rhythmic pattern with the music, like a heart beat, until the piano ceases to emit any sound and the inaudible talking commences one again. “On-Air” is one of my new favorite instrumentals, because you instantly see a story unfold in your mind, complete with the flickers of an old film reel, and a vintage set of brooding eyes, pouring over an experiment or in the throws of a dark realization. These story telling moments that VNV Nation creates is one reason why they have a musical skill that is unparalleled to much of the contemporary work produced today.
VNV Nation not only have the capability to tell a story without words, but they have refined their crafting of lyrics to a beautiful simplicity that often contain thematic elements of hope, even if the subject matter is a little depressing. They often talk about drudging through the worst of times and reigning victorious, or maintaining a positive perspective, and more often than not, the songs are placed in a specific order on the album to create an emotional progression or wave, creating a sense of time and space. Automatic does this particularly well, and the majority of the album keeps with the hopeful theme, sans one or two songs whose musical composition is a bit heavier than the rest. “Control”, for example, is the only song with a heavy, club-style beat.”Photon” is lighter, but still has a club-vibe to it.
In contrast, my only disappointment with Automatic that its lyrical content overall has lost of bit of its shine since their “classic” era, the days of Empires and Futureperfect. Of Faith, Power, and Glory contained some stunning lyrical moments as well for a more recent album with songs such as “Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Great Divide”.
Deep is the longing in the heart that ever strives
The expanses far and wide that still confine
The simple facts that yet lay waiting to be found
As lost as some forgotten promised land. – “Tomorrow Never Comes”
Raise your head up high
Raise your head up high
So the heavens hear you cry
Light the brightest fire
From the highest mountain
So the whole world knows
That your spirit can’t be broken – “Resolution” from Automatic
I feel that the lyrics in “Resolution” have fallen into the realm of cliche. It’s almost like they ran out of creative descriptions, and that’s what I love about their “classic” songs.
As a whole, Automatic really emphasis the passing of the 20th century, and emits a specific nostalgia for a less worrisome time, in a sense. This idea of ‘the radio’ is the tangible metaphor that links it all together- the passing of information and the evolution of technology. Its overzealous message of hope was its downfall in creating ear and eye popping lyrical content. Automatic does give me some new, good songs to add to my playlist of ‘awesome’, and VNV Nation will continue to be one of my all time favorite bands.