It was only a matter of time before Dot Allison succumbed to 21st century cynicism. 1999’s hyperemotional Afterglow was almost quaint in its sincerity, proving that true sadness of the weepy variety actually still exists in Postmodernland (who knew?). But the morbid tone of We Are Science (Mantra) feels more like Wednesday Addams on a Percocet binge than actual woe. While she’s grown in technique, Dot’s lost some of her beautiful ennui.
Which makes for an album with a serious case of the blahs, especially when half of the songs linger for five to eight minutes. What’s more, the haunting voice that makes Allison so creepily appealing is often kept on the sidelines. When it does make an appearance it’s a beautiful thing, but all too often suffocated under messy piles of cluttered guitar or washed out by malaise-stricken, gravity-less ambient.
Even the title suggests a chilly Aphex Twin subplot, anticipating a droning, Miss Kittin-ish Euro-droid monotone flatter than a Mariah low note. Happily, Allison doesn’t go there. But she doesn’t quite reach that golden Beth Orton arch, either. She’s somewhere in the middle. Where she does nail it is on the admittedly radio-friendly “Strung Out, ” produced by Mercury Rev’s Dave Fridmann. It’s a fuzzy brew of hard riffs and heavy bass, intelligent, original and, most importantly, focused. Many of the other songs lack this quality, sounding like they were sung in a vacuum.
Songs like “Substance, ” an electro-rhythm throwback laid over with breathy, robotic vocals, feel more like a remix of the Pitfall! music than a genre that once was hip. The semi-resurgence of electro is tolerable with coolmeisters like Felix da Housecat at the helm, and to Science‘s credit, Felix remixes “Substance ” on a bonus track, providing the needed assistance. But when Allison waxes automaton I suspect it’s because that’s what’s selling these days, but in doing so, she sacrifices her best asset — sincerity. Can’t get much more cynical than that.