Factory Floor’s 2013 debut record on DFA records was a feat of vicious genre blending: the hammering of analog synths together with frenetic live percussion, the creeping noise and post-punk vocals being layered on top of metallic guitars. From the tribal drums and robotic vocal echoes on ‘Turn It Up’ to the frenzied synths and disharmonious mantra of ‘Two Different Ways’ it was a debut that assaulted the boundaries between techno and punk, feeling industrial and at times cold but simultaneously enveloping and remarkable. It triumphed in its disjointedness, in its chaotic sultriness, as capable of triggering a mosh pit at a live show as a pulsing groove. You could relish in the intensity of it, in the feeling that at any point the whole thing might fall apart in a clamorous mess. Now three years later on their sophomore LP 25 25, Factory Floor have reassembled their sound into something far more structurally solid, more engineered. This is in some ways a definite progression for the band, but the fact is that ultimately it was that ferocity and vigour that they wore so well on the debut that was integral. With that faded, we are left instead with something that is objectively quite excellent but which doesn’t come close to being as captivating.
Now operating as a duo, Nik Void and Gabe Gurnsey have taken a step in a far more minimal direction on 25 25, explaining how they needed to escape the musical “cages” they were in and how there was need to expand on how they approached composition. In interviews they have discussed the newfound fluidity that has come with operating as a pair rather than a trio, and the impact of being backstage in venues and of playing far more late-night shows on their composition. What all of this has resulted in is a collection that is built upon modular synths, loops, and hypnotic, minimal grooves. While they have successfully branched out and not allowed themselves to be pigeonholed into their debut’s sound, the initial grit and abrasiveness that once made them so interesting seems now to be diluted.
That is not to say that the album lacks in strong points entirely. Opening with ‘Meet Me At the End’ and its swelling modular synths and thudding drums there is an immediate sense that maybe this could be as exciting as album as FF, the repetitive layers nestling onto one another with mesmerising heft. Things quickly lose momentum however on ‘Relay’, a track that channels the sporadic vocal cuts that they have used to great effect in the past. Overly clean vocal alterations and drums that sound muffled to the point of muteness leave us with a track that sounds like Factory Floor lite, the sharp edges worn down much too far.
It feels as though each track on 25 25 has the same mettlesome intensity in its foundation but that almost every one of them has been glossed over with a coat of thick varnish, making them feel intangible and incomplete. This is most obvious on the album’s title track and the frustrating album closer ‘Upper Left’.
The album succeeds most when it takes the newfound craving for all things hypnotic and deep and runs away with it. ‘Slow Listen’ and ‘Wave’, the records two strongest cuts, save it from being a complete disappointment with the low-end in each providing monstrous backbone to the siren vocals and looping bass. It is on these tracks, and to a slightly lesser extent on single ‘Ya’, that the trance-like intensity that Void and Gurnsey desired for this album is realised. As stand-alone cuts they are fierce and in a live context they will be at the peaks of the experience, but their placement on an album that falls flat one too many times does not save it.
On 25 25 Factory Floor have proven that they are not anxious of change or of veering away from what they were once comfortable in, which is something that has always been an admirable part of their ethos. But why then is it that the music on this album feels so much safer and less engaging than before? This record simply doesn’t accurately represent the fearlessness and the rawness that this act should pride itself on. One shouldn’t doubt that Factory Floor is still one of the most exciting live electronic acts currently on the circuit and that these tracks may find a more tangible energy in a live setting. It’s just a pity that apart from a few terrific moments, there is really not enough to grab onto here. Eoin Murray