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Album Review

Album Review: Gesaffelstein's GAMMA

April 11, 2024

Screenshot of a Twitter converstation regarding a Gesaffelstein produced Charli XCX song

Gesaffelstein is an artist I cannot recommend enough. Since the advent of his musical journey in 2008, he has been known for his dark & groove-focused tracks around 100 beats per minute. As the primary pioneer of electro industrial & dark club music, he quickly made a name for himself with tracks such as Opr and Pursuit. He further capitalized on this by producing two tracks from Kanye West's Yeezus and remixing tracks by the likes of Lana Del Rey, Depeche Mode, Moby, and Justice.

Following his 2013 debut album Aleph, his releases gradually became more atmospheric and less focused on the deep industrial basses he had been known for. Many hope he will return to those his Aleph-era glory days, but he is unlikely to revert to a style he has been avoiding for nearly a decade.

His change in style helped him gain even more prominence, collaborating with The Weeknd twice before his second album in 2019, Hyperion. Hyperion was largely criticized for its inconsistency, alternating between its minimal instrumentals like Reset and Ever Now, and its pop collaborations like Lost in the Fire (with The Weeknd) & Blast Off (with Pharrell Williams). A few months later, he followed up with the instrumental EP Novo Sonic System, comprised of energetic instrumental tracks meant best for live shows.

Since 2019, he has only emerged from the shadows to produce tracks for others – 7 for KayCyy for their collaborative TW2052 EP, 3 for Kanye, 1 for Lil Nas X, and 1 for Jain.

As a fan of Gesaffelstein during this musical drought, I had been long awaiting his, I had been long awaiting another album from him – one which Skrillex had hinted at on Instagram over a year before its release.

Since that time, the core question had been what his return would sound like. His past two albums were very different, and so there had long been curiosity whether it would sound more like Hyperion, a return to form with Aleph, or something we had not seen from him yet.

Album art for Gesaffelstein's album Gamma

What followed shocked everyone – GAMMA is a mix of Novo Sonic System, Kraftwerk, and Depeche Mode. With 11 tracks covering 27 minutes, most of the album feels rushed and it often doesn’t have time to expand on the ideas it teases. Those ideas are incredible however, and the album has a lot of great moments. Featuring on the majority of the album, vocalist Yan Wagner’s lower voice reminds me of Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan and compliments Gesaffelstein’s analog synths excellently, even if his lyrics lack substance.

The album kicks off with "Digital slaves", an unimpressive track sitting at less than 2 minutes that sets the tone of the vocal tracks well but isn't a track I'll be coming back to.

Following it is "Hard dreams", the first and only single from the album. It is the highlight of GAMMA, a track that showcases how Gesaffelstein's style can work so well with Wagner's vocals. Gesaffelstein's iconic industrial drums and analog synth whines merge to transform the track into a deeper and more direct version of the synthpop tunes I grew up on.

Third is "Your share of the night", which quickly jumps to an infectious bass riff. It does everything right in the same way that the track preceding it did. At 3 minutes and 9 seconds, it sits as the longest track on the album but uses the time very well. The main core of the track shifts between slower resonant synths that act closer to pads & a quicker melody/bassline, all complimenting Wagner's vocals.

"Hysteria" follows afterward. It is a good tune, but it feels out of place on the album. It's another shorter track and sets a much quicker pace than the tracks before it. As the first instrumental song on the album, it is an aggressive number that reminds me of Novo Sonic System – and not any of the 3 tracks preceding this one. It doesn't progress a whole lot, but that's not its purpose.

"The urge" begins after, resuming with Wagner's vocals as if the previous track never played. The core of the track is nice, focusing on another nice bass groove and some analog lasers in the black ground. It pauses a lot in the middle to let Wagner sing for a couple of bars, and consequently the track struggles with a lack of momentum. Speaking of momentum, the last 40 seconds of the track seem cut from an entirely different track. A nice touch, but entirely out of place when considering the following track.

"Mania" continues in the same vein as Hysteria – another instrumental track that doesn't progress a lot. The core idea is solid, and the track itself doesn't stay too long – but it does get tedious quickly if you're not lost in the groove.

"Lost love" takes the album in a completely different direction. It's a slower love song, and Gesaffelstein's synths work excellently here as well. His minimal modular leads sound closer to a piano here, and the basses are similarly closer to a real bass. It reminds me of the instrumental tracks on Hyperion, but it is not an instrumental track. Wagner's vocals fit well here as well. Unfortunately, it also feels incredibly out of place in the tracklist, especially following Mania.

"The perfect" falls back to the synthpop side of things. It begins with modular whines, powerful drums, chanting vocals, and has an excellent chorus whenever the three collide. Unfortunately, the track feels static and empty whenever the chorus is absent. During the main verses, all the ambience moving the track drops out and leaves the track empty – all that remains is the drums, the vocals, and a small bass.

"Psycho" jumps back into chaos instantly with distorted toms. Jumping around with its distorted drums, it sticks to just drums for its duration. Only a minute and a half in does it feel a strong sense of direction, and it ends before it has time to properly capitalize on this.

"Tyranny" starts with a similarly powerful bass and focuses on it for the duration of the track, but doesn't do very much. Another heavy instrumental track that feels more like an interlude than a full track. Hardly a fitting penultimate track.

"Emet" closes out the album, beginning with a powerful reese bass and fading quarter note saw pulses. It's good but moderately empty, lacking purposefulness to its background melody. It could work amazingly as a closing track if the other tracks shifted in that direction, but it just doesn't have the time to give the album the emotional outro you might expect.

Overall, GAMMA is alright. It's not great, especially for Gesaffelstein. I enjoy Hyperion more, and probably Aleph as well. Some of the tracks are solid, but the tracklisting of the album makes an incoherent listening experience overall. Nearly every song on the album is way too short in– some could work with the shorter length but not having a single track longer than 3:10 means that nothing gets to elaborate on its ideas a bit more &. Additionally, to greatly improve the album: I would cut Hysteria, Mania, Psycho, and Tyranny. While they are all great tracks, they do not fit the album and would serve better in their own EP. After that, I would reorder the album to this:

            1. Your share of the night

            2. Digital slaves

            3. Hard dreams

            4. The perfect

            5. The urge

            6. Lost love

            7. Emet

"Your share of the night" has a more fitting intro, and stacking The urge, Lost love, and Emet together would give the second half a more emotional tone that would help the release feel more ordered. This would make the whole album (except Emet) have vocal features from Wagner, and I think it would fit better credited to both Gesaffelstein & Wagner, even in its current state. The four instrumental electro tracks are the only reason this album could justifiably be considered a solo record from Gesaffelstein at all, with half the tracks featuring the vocalist who isn't credited as an album artist.

With that said, the peaks of the album merge the best of 80s industrial pop with Gesaffelstein's darker production. Gesaffelstein continues to experiment and evolve, and I can't wait to see what style his sound will take in the future, even if I must wait another 5 years.

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