The Fair Attempts is the brainchild of Finland’s electronic music maven, Friendly Timo. Since 2019, TFA have proudly waved the banner of a new gothic industrial movement. To me, their first album “Carnal Insect,” lacked some of the qualities that made TFA’s debut EP “arisTotal,” special. On September 28th, 2020, TFA released their ever important sophmore LP, entitled “Dream Engine.”

“Dream Engine” is a concept album based on the novel “Dreaming Your Dream” by Starwing. The premise behind the novel zeroes in on a dystopian society obsessed with a “virtual utopia” that exists within interactive dream technology. Naturally, the novel features an artificial intelligence who determines that humans are assholes because they can’t control their emotions. So instead of figuring out how to get everyone to enroll into an NLP course, this AI seeks to eliminate emotion entirely during waking hours, while offering a safe haven for people when they asleep. The entire crux of this situation is that there is a guy who secretly feels emotions when he’s awake. The novel is one part, “Gattaca,” one part “The Matrix,” and “THX 1138.”

On the cover of “Dream Engine” is a nice photograph of the masked man behind The Fair Attempts, Friendly Timo. The red and blue smoke are nice looking, and while I think the overall vibe of the cover is a little too sleek, I think that it’s memorable. Especially when you take a step or two back to look at it. It’s very, 1990s DIY with the right amount of professional sheen. The photographer obviously knew what they were doing. I love the way blue and red smoke just POPS.

So what does “Dream Engine” sound like? And how does it compare to their earlier releases? Let’s find out!

“Dream Engine” feels like it was split into two sections. The first several songs sound akin to late 90s/early 2000s industrial and gothic rock. The latter half of the album is a little bit more difficult to peg as it offers up a pace that is slower and a lot more atmospheric. The one thing I can say that sticks out most about “Dream Engine” is how inoffensive the production quality is on the album. With the exception of a few minor instances, “Dream Engine” is a simple, easy to digest listen. This is the result, I’m sure, of many countless hours of hard work in smoothing out the overall mix and master of this LP.

As I mentioned in my review of “arisTotal,” Friendly Timo’s voice really reminds me of Mortiis (Era 2). On “Dream Engine” this is even more apparent. Timo also sounds like Nagash/Lex Icon from The Kovenant when he’s singing in lower registers like in the title track and “Master Key.” Typically speaking, what I’m used to hearing when I hear voices similar to Timo’s is a very pitchy, overly bright mix that sort of stings the ears. The vocals here are completely devoid of this however, which makes “Dream Engine” highly listenable regardless whether or not you actually dig what TFA is doing or not.

The album’s title track is by far the strongest opener I’ve heard from TFA since “arisTotal’s” “Blowback.” I love how long it takes this song to get going. I don’t often get goosebumps from a song but I did with this one due to that initial build up. Of any track offered on “Dream Engine” I feel that this is exactly what I pictured when I first heard The Kovenant begin to talk about their follow-up to 2003’s “S.E.T.I.” It blows my fucking mind that The Fair Attempts can get this style correct and actually release it while The Kovenant stays inactive for whatever reason. Like seriously, we’re all out here making the music we like with minimal setups—you guys can do it too! The lyrics for the title track of “Dream Engine” also features the most memorable cheesy gothy line on the entire album. I’ll let you listen, and you can try to guess my favorite lines.

The second song on the album “Master Key” is very reminiscent of that familiar “Animatronic” vibe that hits me in all the right places. I also happen to like the video for this song quite a bit too.

“Dream Engine” features several guest vocalists, including Jessi Frey, Starwing, and Ashley Eddy. The most memorable of these moments was definitely the piano driven surprise that is “Blue Rose Park.” I’d be lying if I said it didn’t remind me of Morte McAdaver’s work on his late Pandora’s Toybox stuff. Of any song though, the duet Timo does with Starwing is the heart of what makes “Dream Engine” a really pleasant experience. My only complaint about this song lies is some of the mostly unnoticeable mouth popping noises going on here. The rest of the album is generally a lot more in your face, but due to the soft nature of “Blue Rose Park” I think that pushing something like Izotope’s RX7 a little more (or now apparently RX8) could’ve denoised the voices here a bit more. That said, it’s hardly noticeable and didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the track.

The other track that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was “In a Stranger’s House.” It’s my second favorite cut from “Dream Engine” and perhaps the most challenging track that TFA has conquered to date. Like, listen to And One’s “Body Pop” album and tell me that this doesn’t have the same hypnotic vibe—because it does. “In a Stranger’s House” begins with a slow breathy choir whilst Timo sings his truth in a very Trent Reznor-esque type of vibe. After a few short moments, a plodding bassy tone begins a sequence that carries the rest of the song with a pleasant mid-high tone that just penetrates. The strings that enter towards the end of the song give me a familiar Madonna “Ray of Light” vibe that sounds so fucking good. As a point of personal preference, I feel like some very subtle use of female vocals underneath the chorus could’ve been neat sounding. I would also be curious what this song would sound like if a female voice sang it. Hint hint: I dig remixes if they are done tastefully and stay true to the source material.

Overall, if you are at all a fan of The Kovenant, Ram-Zet, Nine Inch Nails, Mortiis, or the Deathstars, then “Dream Engine” is worth the price of admission. This album is sleek, professional sounding, and fresh. If you need a break from Synthwave, Vaporwave, or any of the waves really, Friendly Timo has your back. This is industrial goodness that really takes me back to when I was a wee lass blasting “Antichrist Superstar” in my high school parking lot.

Album Color Profile: #138D75

You can find all things The Fair Attempts at https://thefairattempts.bandcamp.com/

Leifendeth is the industrial project of Toronto producer Dan McDonald. Since 2009 he’s been regularly releasing music under the Leifendeth banner. He has had roughly fifteen releases during this time. His latest, “Narrow Escapism” is a mini-ep featuring five remixes from artists including Braphonyte 7, Real Wilkinson, and Armageddon Speaking.

On the cover of “Narrow Escapism” is a back alley somewhere (maybe in Toronto), sprayed with graffiti. While I personally don’t particularly like the aesthetic of the photograph, I do think that it plays well into the idea of this EP, being that the photo feels claustrophobic.

Musically, I really, really like the title track of this EP. It reminds me “Mechanical Renaissance”-era Psyborg Corp, Xperiment, and C-Lekktor. It’s quite dancey, (Batty von Bats eat your heart out) and has in no way any ties to the current “retro” style that’s in vogue right now. This is the kind of aggrotech infused, industrial music that died a quiet death way back in 2012 with the advent of dubstep. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure how or why this type of music went out of style, maybe it has something to do with the proliferation of the “Goth Bridge Rave.” Regardless, “Narrow Escapism” is a concise track that is well-written, well-produced, and quite familiar to my aging old soul. McDonald makes creative, well-placed use of EQ, reverb, and reverse cymbals (my favorite) to help create this memorable track.

I tend to enjoy EPs like this as they help to expose me to new artists I haven’t heard of before via remixes. The most memorable of these remixes is “Pandemic” by Braphonyte 7. There’s just the right amount of aggression here that just makes me giddy with evil glee. Braphonyte 7’s remix is reminiscent of 2000s-era :Wumpscut:. Armageddon Speaking’s remix of “Not Again” is downright weird, a little ambient, and definitely old school. “Parasomniac (ghost panic mix)” has a good aggrotech styling to it, but the vocals come off as a little dry for my tastes. That’s not to say that they don’t fit, they do, I just think they should’ve been a little more wet, or slightly more in the background of the track. Of the two Real Wilkinson remixes of “Narrow Escapism” I much prefer the “Narrated Breakout” remix as it comes off as a tasteful reprise of the original track. The “Extended ‘Press the ESC button” remix is a lot more experimental, diverting a lot of attention from the original theme by focusing on various creative cuts and button presses.

Overall, I think that this is a pretty good EP. If there had been two other new tracks by Leifendeth here in the same polished style as “Narrow Escapism” in addition to all the extras we get here I think it could’ve been better. In general, if I had to pick one aspect of how Leifendeth could improve, it would be in the visual aesthetic of the project. Looking back at McDonald’s body of work I feel that the music is too amazing for the visual style that was settled upon for Leifendeth. “Narrow Escapism” also suffers from this lack of visual stimulus as well. If there was a little more flashiness to the art design, I think it would push this project over the top as something a little more noticeable, a lot more threatening, and more befitting of the wonderful music found within.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of 2000s aggrotech, late 2000s industrial dance.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Narrow Escapism” (this is near perfect) and “Pandemic (Braphonyte 7 remix)”

Album Color Profile: #BDC3C7

You can find all things Leifendeth at https://leifendeth.bandcamp.com/

LV-426 is the darksynth project of producer Justin Peeler. Peeler hails from Brantford, Ontario and has been writing music for LV-426 for a couple of years now. He recently released his first full-length entitled “Shadow Runner” on June 19th, 2020.

The cover art work is a stylized rendition of a pre-covid photograph of a back street in Shinjuku. I won’t drop the address of this location—but it wasn’t too difficult to find considering Osteria Oliera is there in plain view. The photo is quite nice, and captures a typical evening on a somewhat busy street. If Chiba City from Neuromancer was an actual place, it might look something like this.

“Shadow Runner” isn’t what I would describe as normal “to-be-expected” darksynth. There is nothing earbustingly loud or shiny about this release. “Shadow Runner” is completely devoid of soft-clipped basses, tropey overused audio drops, or popping drums. And honestly speaking, the mere fact that “Shadow Runner” does none of this is what makes it charming. “Shadow Runner” may lack saturation or walls of deafening sound, but it makes up for it (in spades) with HIGHLY original and unconventional song arrangements. “Shadow Runner” has the type of underground grit that I just don’t hear all that often these days. Part of this might be experiential, but don’t hold that against LV-426. There’s goodness to be had here.

Every song on “Shadow Runner” is both worthy and wonderful. That said, there are a couple of songs that really stuck out to me. The first of these being “Tokyo Cyber Squad.” How can I describe this? Think of a darker heavy metal band like Hypocrisy and their song “Inseminated Adoption.” Now replace the guitars in that song with a saw bass that roughly occupies the same space as a guitar post-EQ. It’s sort of like that. This isn’t a song meant for dancing. It’s meant for banging one’s head. The next track that stood out to me was “Fail Safe.” This a very WEIRD track—rhythmically. But not so weird that it’s impossible to appreciate. Like “Tokyo Cyber Squad,” this is meant to make you bang your head. I don’t think “Fail Safe” will appeal to everyone. In fact, I think that most darksynth listeners will be put off by it due to how disjointed it feels. To those brave souls who are willing to appreciate it, there’s something quite special here. It’s my favorite cut off of the entire album. Finally, “System Collapse” sort of combines the sensibilities of both aforementioned songs. This is a dangerous in an edgy YM2612 sort of way. It reminds me of early 1990s BGM battle music, you know, the type of earworm you might hear in an action platformer on the Megadrive.

In general, what “Shadow Runner” does really well is to capture a cyberpunk atmosphere without trying to sound like Perturbator or the Blade Runner soundtrack. What we’re left with is a back alley interpretation of one individual’s unique vision of what cyberpunk looks like to them. Now whether or not this is by design, I’m not entirely sure. What I tend to think, at least in my head cannon for this album, is that Peeler made creative choices with “Shadow Runner” that were entirely his own. The result? An album that offers up rich originality via unusual sound choices, the occasional weird song structure, and a dry dynamism that gives no fucks about what everybody else is doing.

This is a great release, with a lot of heart, and a distinctive creative edge that shines because it’s just doing its own thing.

RECOMMENDED FOR: The adventurous darksynth/cyberpunk listener looking for something different.

Stand-Out Tracks: “Fail Safe,” “Tokyo Cyber Squad,” “Regroup,” “System Collapse” (this song sounds like a Megadrive boss theme).

Album Color Profile: #512E5F

You can find all things LV-426 at https://lv-4261.bandcamp.com/

“arisTotal” marks the first formal release from Finnish industrial rockers The Fair Attempts. From the moment I pressed play I was immediately surprised by the quality and sheer catchiness that TFA bottled up into this criminally short EP. “arisTotal” boasts something that’s a bit of a rarity in electronic music in the post-Synthwave era, and that’s vocals. We’re talking, verse, pre-chorus, chorus delivery. While I understand how polarizing vocals can be for most listeners nowadays, I really wish more electronic musicians would go this route. Because unlike most producers who live and die by the instrumental, TFA demands that you listen to it. This is NOT neo-elevator music that you can put on in the background while playing Counterstrike. And because of this, fans of legitimate gothic infused industrial rock are in for absolute treat with this debut EP.

The lyrics are masterfully written. And I guarantee that they will stick with you like an earworm that won’t quit. I’m not ashamed to say, but I was headbanging in my kitchen the first time I heard “Blowback.” It’s catchy as hell, just like the rest of “arisTotal.” To me, this EP should be hailed as an industrial rock classic:

“So what do you say
When your future and your past fornicate?
They make you who you are today
Two wrongs don’t make one right, they say
But I’ll nail you to your cross anyway”
(Excerpt from “Blowback” by The Fair Attempts)

TFA understand the audience they are going for. I love it so much.

When I was in high school I listened to A LOT of The Kovenant , Marilyn Manson, and Mortiis (era 2). So as you could imagine I was something of an industrial Hot Topic type of goth rocker myself–black eyeliner and all. If The Fair Attempts were around back then I have no doubt that I would’ve thrown their CD into my car’s stereo and blasted it in the high school parking lot, much to the annoyance of all the emo kids cutting themselves to Simple Plan two cars over.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Peeps who love catchy industrial rock. If you dig Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, The Kovenant, Ram-Zet, Mortiis, or Psyborg Corp, there is something here for you.

Stand-out tracks: Bad Battery (my personal fav), Blowback, A Day of Concern

Album Color Profile #009999

You can find all things The Fair Attempts at: https://thefairattempts.bandcamp.com/