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One of the main criticisms levelled at synth pop of the '80s was that it abandoned the futurist ideals of early electronic music, to focus on premade song structures and preset sounds. Bubblegum electro, if you will. The future was just... more of the same.

Not only does this abandon the forward thrust of the whole post-punk escape velocity, but it also denied the mission of music itself, to keep pushing forward, to keep finding new ways of capturing ideas and expressing yourself, finding new stories to tell. Instead, music was increasingly relegated to the position of a commodity, shiny plastic radio friendly unit shifters. Everybody's getting rich, everybody's happy. Don't rock the boat.

But then the hordes got through the censors, with the polycultural explosion that is the digital age, and no one's getting rich anymore. The likelihood of becoming an arena rock G_d is unlikely, of a different class and scale, while hundreds of millions of people get access to cheap recording gear and musical instruments, trying to define their piece of the grand spectacle of the universe.

This is creating a return to innovation, bringing back the futurist ideals of the post-punk nexus, without necessarily ripping everything up and starting again.

You might call Negative Space, the debut LP from Brooklyn electronic musician and sound designer Michael Hammond, synth noise pop, if you were to add a dash of R&B and ambient techno, you'd be there. Hammond uses an array of homemade electronic instruments, along with more conventional instrumentation like guitars, standard synthesizers, drum machines, and processed vocals, to evoke a world of vast and pristine order, on a quest for new sounds and songworlds. Negative space is a phrase most commonly used in visual art, so it's interesting Hammond is using sonics to explore this terrain.

Negative Space was constructed over the span of three years, in a period following Hurricane Sandy, where the Brooklyn producer was separated from his studio. According to the press release, "The watery world that displaced him became a renewed object of fascination, kindling a nascent obsession with all things aquatic," as the feeling of being displaced, "leaked a particular feeling of unease and rootlessness into his music." One wonders if Hammond discovered something permanent and true, in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty. Sometimes travelling and moving will do that to you - you begin to explore yourself, your own experience.

The nine song structures on Negative Space are worlds unto themselves, like some Neptunian realm, swaying in slow-motion, as half-recalled vocals rise and fall from all around you. The ringing, crystalline harmonics ring like opalescent bubbles, while surface crackle and texture serves as the fluid around you, bending and obscuring the glistening melodies, while 'City' sounds like a fast zoom-shot through its silvery streets. A light, cruising house beat meets a simple, repeating guitar figure, while a distant voice proclaims. The beats, and Hammond's beautiful layered vocal harmonies, prevent this from being a New Age nod-out record, giving a human heart to these exotic, imaginary worlds.

The next track, 'Pretender', with its pitch-shifted vocals, is interesting, as it's right in line with a brand of digital exotica mixed with an abstracted club trap beat, such as you might find on Oneohtrix Point Never's Software label, or on Fatima Al Qadiri's Asiatisch release on Hyperdub, from earlier this year. Hammond smootehs the barbed digital edges of trap's relentless microsampling, while retaining its speed and precision. The mix is flawless and mesmerizing, with a smooth, thumping bottom end that is still light and quicksilver as a school of minnows. "Pretender" shows that No Lands have the potential to make their way into progressive clubs, pirate radio, and musical festivals, and dose the world with their otherworldly manifestations.

'Sleep Atlas' has the same mutant human quality that we love about Fever Ray and The Knife, suggesting that these metaphysical realms are perhaps inhabitable and friendly. It drifts in a intoxicating grandeur, the guitars flickering like silver shadows, while the vocals eddy and whirl, while 'Eyesore' is a big beat, big room epic in slow motion, subdued and remote, which makes its poignant build come out of left field, until fireworks fill your field of vision.

The visions of something truly new and unexpected, something large and true and human and relatable, while still seeming ageless and eternal, some part of ourselves we can't see in our everyday routines, just goes to show what can happen when you push beyond bubblegum pop. When music resumes it's role as art and heart, and is not just another mode to peddle lattes.

Gripping stuff, highly emotional and imaginative, exquisitely put together; really pulls you under its spell. If only every debut were this auspicious, but then perhaps we wouldn't be able to appreciate the artistry, when we came across it. If No Lands keep up this quality, care and craftmanship, they can go anywhere.

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