Elay Arson is the brainchild of Daniel David Larson. To those unfamiliar with Larson’s work, I would like to prepare you, because Elay Arson doesn’t take notes from any other artist in the darksynth/retrowave scene. These guys do their own thing. And with the imminent release of their second full-length in 2020 (holy shit two LPs in one year), “Franz,” they continue to push the limit of what I’ve come to expect as their norm. Unlike a lot of the stuff I’ve reviewed this year, Elay Arson is a project that I’ve been actively listening to since the release of their seminal “Rites of the Damned” album from way back in 2017. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Larson’s career grow with great interest.
I want to put “Franz” into perspective for listeners who aren’t familiar with Elay Arson’s previous work. First of all, looking at Elay Arson’s back catalog, “Franz” sticks out as strange. While there’s always been some level of what I’d like to call “epic cheese” to Elay Arson’s music, I can’t say that it’s ever waded into the waters of camp like “Franz” has. I’ve always perceived Elay Arson to be the sort of project, and I mean this loose terms, that embraced serious types of cyberpunk aesthetics and subject matter. “Franz” completely sheds that hard high-minded cyberpunk ideal for something much more playful. There’s a “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” meets Die Antwoord level of absurdity with “Franz” that isn’t so much out of place for Elay Arson as it is bizarre.
Similar to their previous full-length “Dusk Incarnate,” “Franz” is a concept album. Only this time instead of focusing on the distant future, Larson wrote this album zeroing in on one of my favorite topics of conversation—cyberpunk, as we’re living it now. “Franz” is a darksynth/hip-hop/metal opera that uses Elon Musk’s ABSURDLY designed Cybertruck as the primary focal point of the album. “Franz” treats Elon Musk like some kind of Dr. Frankenstein character in an effort to resurrect the consciousness of designer Franz von Holzhausen into a Cybertruck. Modern problems require modern solutions. Anyway, some shit happens and Franz begins killing/terrorizing the citizens of Fremont. If this sounds like Child’s Play meets Christine, meets Portal, you aren’t that far off the mark. The whole idea behind “Franz” as an album sounds like something that Larson came up with as a joke whilst dabbing tangie with Devin Harrison on the third floor of a Colorado ski resort. The last thing he probably remembered was going comatose, (as you do) but when he came to, “Franz” had been fully fleshed out, recorded, and ready to go. At that point he had no choice but to commit to the project.
Production wise, I think that Elay Arson has really stretched their producin’ legs this go around. Where “Dusk Incarnate” still felt slightly faded in an indie kind of way, “Franz” is much more polished, and more listenable. There’s a good variety here, though if I had to pick one point of weakness for the album I would zero in on its percussion. While there are already a lot of collabs on “Franz” I think that this album would have benefitted by outsourcing some of the “beat making” responsibilities to a proper hip-hop producer, especially on “Billionaire, Boyfriend, CEO,” and “They Call Me Crazy.” The songs themselves are two of the most memorable tracks on “Franz” but I’d like to hear both of these with some howling, car shaking 808s to make them sizzle in that acid/rave hip-hop kind of way. For songs that leaned more into the metal side of things, like “Kill the Truck,” “Icon of Evil” and “Humanity is Fired,” I think making the drums and bass little more front and center in a melodeath Gothenburg style could’ve benefitted the overall feel of the album, by making those moments a little more organic sounding.
In terms of how “Franz” is structurally envisioned, I think that it really shows just how far Elay Arson is willing to explore in an effort to create interesting music. Larson doesn’t stay in one place for too long on this album, and because it’s so widely varied it became more memorable each time I gave it a spin. I knew that this album had its hooks in me when I started singing “Billionaire, Boyfriend, CEO” to myself in the shower a few days after my initial listen. Goddamn, I fucking love that song. It’s gothic and thug simultaneously! (Think Ghostemane). I was particularly drawn to the collabs Larson did with Hard Men Working Hard. Vocally, both songs (“Icon of Evil,” and “Humanity is Fired”) featuring those cool cats from down under were really memorable songs. Their style was perfectly in line with what Elay Arson was trying to get across here. “Kill the Truck,” harkens back to Elay Arson’s style on “Dusk Incarnate” a bit more as does the opening instrumental “Pointy Steel Overture.” Synth-maiden Czarina makes a memorable appearance on “No One is Getting Out Alive,” with an almost operatic performance Her voice has a slight Amy Lee vibe to it. My favorite track from the album was Becca Star’s Yolandi/Fergi-esque collab on “They Say I’m Crazy.” I’m not averse to a full album of this type of thing…maybe next time we’ll get some more. I can only hope.
The last thing I want to talk about with regards to “Franz” is how genius it is to sing about something so prevalent in popular culture in the moment. For all intents and purposes, Elay Arson is still underground, but I feel like in a world where people go viral all the time, “Franz” has potential to make things happen. All it’s going to take is Joe Rogan, Franz von Holzhausen, or Elon Musk himself to catch wind that there’s an album like this out there and Larson could be trending overnight. I think from a marketing stand-point it’s a crazy idea that has some hairy ass fucking legs.
So yeah, “Franz” wades heavily into batshit crazy side of the pool—but you know what? “Franz” feels like legit entertainment. And it’s all the better for it. That said, the first time that I listened to “Franz” I fucking HATED it. It’s not wildly different from Elay Arson’s previous output, but it was different enough to make me feel uncomfortable with it until I listened to it several times. That said, I love “Franz” now that I’ve spent a good two weeks with it in an honest effort to understand what it’s doing. “Franz” is original, fresh, and injects the darksynth genre with precisely what it needs in order to overcome the current stagnation occurring in the scene. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had more Carpenter Brut style distorted resampled saws than my body has room for. It was great while it lasted but that style has been done to fucking death. Thankfully, Larson has spared us from anymore of that, and still stands, at least to me, as a pillar of a scene crumbling underneath the weight of its popularity amongst edge-lord high-end production worshipping whores looking to piss all over actual artistic expression that doesn’t conform to their idea of what makes a good music. Where those type of people will forever remain stains on the scene for being negative because they crave credibility, Elay Arson will be over here making true art by pushing the limits of the genre by transcending “the standard.”
If “Dusk Incarnate” is a fully realized ultimate version of the style Elay Arson cultivated on “Rites of the Damned,” then “Franz” has given Elay Arson the realization that they aren’t beholden to that style or any other genre or style of music. “Franz” is the start of something truly wonderful. I am super excited to see where Elay Arson takes us next.
Album Highlights: “They Call Me Crazy (feat. Becca Starr),” “Billionaire, Boyfriend, CEO,” “Icon of Evil (feat. Hard Men Working Hard),” “No One is Getting Out Alive (feat. C Z A R I N A),” and “Kill the Truck (feat. Hard Men Working Hard).”
Recommended for: Tesla Fans, metal heads, and sentient Cybertrucks.
Album Color Profile: SHINY AND CHROME
You can find all things Elay Arson at https://elayarson.bandcamp.com/