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/

Ah, Bandcamp Fridays—the one light in the deep dark tunnel that is 2020. With the advent of Bandcamp Fridays, a lot of artists have begun centering their release strategies around this special day, and as 2020 has gone on more artists have felt compelled more artists to release albums to coincide with the occasion. Today, Kizunaut has followed suit with the release of his sophmore album entitled “The City by the Sea.” If you don’t know who Kizunaut is, he is an electronic music producer from one of my favorite places in the world, Scandanavia’s very own city by the sea–Helsinki, Finland (vetää perskännit!)

The visual aesthetic for “The City by the Sea” was created by Octopuddle. The image features a very industrial gold and blue color scheme which is somewhat of a departure from what I’m normally used to in the often neon-soaked cyberpunk centric music. Despite being a bit on the nose and a little cartoony, I like it, though I would’ve preferred a much more physical DIY look (like a collage) to accentuate and accompany this release.

Musically, “The City by the Sea” feels like a total step up from Kizunaut’s previous Synthwave-leaden “This Was the Future” from 2019. Generally speaking, there is practically zero Synthwave influence shining through on this album, and you know what? I like it better because of that. I think that the feel of this album is somewhat comparable to a cross between “Front by Front” by Front 242, 90s-era Attrition, and Nine Inch Nails.

“The City by the Sea” is really gothy—in a black eyeliner kind of way. The way the percussion and bass come together on this album instantly reminds me of 1990s style rave culture. “Up in Smoke” is a good example of this, combining an oddly familiar synthetic industrial guitar sound with its pulsing and deliberate high-mid bass. I would’ve jammed it so hard in 1996.

The lyrical content of “The City by the Sea” isn’t exactly poetry, as it covers the overplayed trope of what it means to circumnavigate life and technology. Kizunaut writes the following in the album’s closer “Real Human Being”:

“Bound to the network/We dream of freedom/I want to disconnect and feel more complete/Now what will it take for you to treat me as human being?”

Again, it’s not poetry, but it gets a simple and easy to understand message across. All of the songs here touch on this type of thing.

I want to talk about the vocal performance on “The City by the Sea.” Generally speaking, I much prefer music with vocals, but this is one of those rare cases that I would’ve liked having the instrumental versions of these songs in conjunction with what we got. When I spun this album for the first time, I was instantly taken in by the nice gothic vibe of the music, but that vibe disintegrated when the vocals came in. Kizunaut’s vocals aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. They are slightly grating and pointy in a nasal Billy Corgan sort of way. I think that a colder, more monotone voice, like Front 242’s Jean-Luc De Meyer, would fit Kizunaut’s music perfectly. I can tell that the intention behind implementing singing on this album wasn’t to annoy listeners, but to create catchy and lyrically driven tunes. To that end, I think that Kizunaut was somewhat successful, as there are some real earworms here—see “California Baby” to hear what I mean.

Considering that Kizunaut outsourced mastering duties out to Friendly Timo (from The Fair Attempts), I’m pretty sure that vocal duties could’ve been outsourced as well. Personally speaking, I would’ve leapt at the opportunity to sing on this album if it came up. The music is so incredibly rock solid that it’s somewhat disappointing that the vocal performance here wasn’t a little bit better. That said, after spinning “The City by the Sea” a few times you get more used to Kizunaut’s vocal delivery. I think that the latter half of the album features a lot more content that serves Kizunaut’s voice much better than the first half of the album. Cuts like “Obsession,” “Only for a While,” “Real Human Being,” and “Up in Smoke,” are good examples of songs that I think sound pretty okay with vocals as they are. I really wonder what this album would’ve sounded like with a vocalist like Vandal Moon’s Blake Voss.

When I look at the entire picture of “The City by the Sea,” I think that there is a lot promise here. The songwriting is catchy, and there are some memorable moments to be had. “Real Human Being” might be my favorite song from this album since the vocal performance is much more level and uniform in comparison to the wide majority of the songs on this album. This is perhaps due to a combination of decent compression and microphone position. There’s not many stray high pitched notes on “Real Human Being” that takes me out of the vision Kizunaut had for this song. I also enjoy “Up in Smoke” quite a bit due how minimalistic and slower paced than the rest of the album. Overall, I look forward to seeing how Kizunaut grows as an artist because he has a lot of potential to create a paradigm shifting album in the future. It’s just going to require the right visual style and the right vocalist.

CHECK THIS OUT: If you’re a fan of Front 242, Attrition, Mortiis (era 2), and Nine Inch Nails.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Up in Smoke,” “Real Human Being,” and “Obsession.”

Album Color Profile: #1B5E20

You can find all things Kizunaut at https://kizunaut.bandcamp.com/