Sweet Robots Against the Machine - 3
Back in 2002, I used to play a game called Enemy Territory a lot, which was an objective-based multiplayer FPS. And since I was never a serious player, I often played while listening to music. Now you might think that shooting and blowing stuff up is more suited to metal or hardcore (this was before the days of dubstep), my soundtrack of choice was Sweet Robots Against The Machine. Whenever I hear “Audio Sex,” that instantly brings to mind starting out from the huts, running into battle in a snowy valley with my trusty Thompson. SRATM somehow got me into a rhythm without disturbing my concentration, because it was never really about the melodies and lyrics, they were just extra sounds to accompany my often lonely forays deep into...<cough>...enemy territory.
In the 16 years since then, games went all high definition and virtual reality, TVs became flat and then irrelevant, smartphones replaced everything, social media happened, various wars, financial crises, EDM took over the universe, the album died, and now AI has come to take all our jobs.
And we have a new SRATM album.
Despite all that has happened, this new album (pronounced “san,” not “three”) is not a product of this time. It could be from the future, I could have been listening to this while trying to repair a virtual tank in 2002. It doesn’t sound like a political statement, nor a reaction to the increasing automation in our lives.
I guess that makes it classic art for art’s sake. Towa Tei and Sunahara Yoshinori team up with comedian Bakarhythm and actresses Aso Kumiko and Yoshioka Kaho to create an album of “spoken techno,” featuring the trademark SRATM sonic palette of digitized voices (think Mr. Spell), exotic sounds and organic instruments competing with digital loops and effects. There’s even a latin style lounge tune, basically because the album needs something with a melody somewhere. Lyrically, the tracks feature inane conversations, a quiz requiring nonsensical answers, radio exercises (except you’re asked to perform the actions on someone else) and ridiculous equations. None of it makes any sense, which I suppose is the only thing to make sense when a comedian is heavily involved with the lyrical content (puns for days). As a fun exercise, listen to “kawaii” in Shibuya 109 and look at a different girl every time the word “kawaii” (cute) is mentioned. It’ll accurately capture what is actually going on in real time. “This is cute,” “Oh this is so cute,” “This is the cutest,” “This looks pretty cute” ad infinitum. It works because it's not a sample being triggered, its being delivered by a professional actress slightly differently each time.
With art there are always more questions than answers. Why this, why now? Is there any further/hidden meaning? How should we consume this product? In an elevator or a supermarket perhaps? In a white room with no furniture, wearing all black, chin resting between finger and thumb? (Actually, I wouldn’t mind an expansive snowfield and a stick of dynamite). Maybe it’s a reaction to music today, which is increasingly consumed as singles on a rapid release schedule. Since when did you last sit down and actively listen to an album in full? Or maybe it’s simply “for the lulz.”
Ironically, “3” is quite possibly the one thing that only humans could have made. No AI could be this crazy, original, funny, creative, ballsy, full of hubris. The only catch is that it’s much less accessible than previous albums because it needs a decent knowledge of Japanese to be enjoyed properly. That’s the only backward step. Otherwise, GL HF.
3. サセル体操(Gymnastics to make)
4. 覚えてはいけない九九(Do not remember 99)
6. 非常識クイズ(Insane quiz)
*translations are official