If Plastic Alter Ego seemed to be a set of musical narratives set on the fringes of a fraying society, Malediction presents us with songs set at the heart of a society spiralling out of all recognition. Previously, the themes seemed dystopian, fetched from a near future that was perhaps the territory of a novelist like J G Ballard or Philip K Dick. Now, after a year of living with lockdown, isolation, hysteria and upheaval, such ideas don’t seem quite so much mere flights of fantasy. Malediction is the bridge between the ideas of the previous album and the normality of our pre-pandemic lives.
And, as before, the music is a deft blend of sonics. Dark electronica paints mysterious soundscapes, driven on by rigid beats and swathes of raw guitar; post-punk electronica dancing with alt-rock grooves.
Lockdown kicks things off in a flurry of urgency and anticipation, hypnotic rhythms built from bubbling, frantic synths as chiming shards of guitar cut and slash their way through and Spring-Heeled Jack is a dark, swirl of claustrophobic sonics and enveloping melancholia. The title track sees some gothic vibes ooze into this more reflective weave of clattering beats and crashing percussion, and at its heart is a complex design of chiming piano notes, pulsing bass lines and layered electronica.
It is such textures that Colin May, the man behind Protocol: M, is so good at. Songs are always ornate and intricate yet spacious enough that every instrument, note, sound and sample has an important part to play. From peripheral musical motifs to deep-routed drives, built out of well-chosen guitar cascades or synth waves, no matter how fleeting or seemingly incidental, all feel perfectly placed. You may not notice them in the scheme of things but you would miss them if they weren’t there.
Apocalypse 2021 roars and rages with dystopian majesty as Colin’s part sung, part spoken lyrics seem to ground the song in humility and humanity and the album ends with a reflective look at how the world ends, doing so with neither a bang nor a whimper but a pointless shuffle off a cliff edge of procrastination and indecision.
It’s a great album. One that voices many of our current fears for the not so distant future and which does so using some clever genre-hopping and musical gene-splicing. It is poignant and perfectly timed, and it has to be concerning that Protocol: M’s music seems to be getting more and more in touch with reality. Concerning because that has come about not through any change of stance on the part of Colin May, but because the subjects that he writes about, once the stuff of science fiction, are becoming closer to our everyday reality. Consider this a warning to you all.