Monday, August 11, 2008

Racing the Stars to Supernova: TNT Jackson's Across the Towers

Despite the fact the Austrian electro-trio TNT Jackson released their sophomore album Across the Towers nearly a year ago, I have only just discovered them (via their excellent single "You and My Pearldiver," which features vocals from Chris Corner and references Gary Numan's Are All Friends Electric - buy it from iTunes) and would like to write a bit about them. Named after a Blaxploitation film, TNT Jackson includes Dr. T, Mr. N, and Danny T (TNT, you see), and was apparently founded during a near fatal plane crash in Estonia. And as you can tell, TNT Jackson is also one of those bands with a carefully cultivated crypticism to their identity. Fair enough, the music tells a story that's more important than the truth.

The instrumental opener, Lamarr, beginning with chiming keyboards, is a breathtaking array of synths and drums that builds from the inner silence of a spaceship to all-out astral sonic warfare. The wittily-titled Leaving Out Vowels is So 2000 begins in a wonky, cosmic fashion, making use of all those fun reverb effects I used to play with on my Casio keyboard as a child. It sounds like an interstellar disco interspersed by old film strips of space documentaries or old series of Doctor Who. Queen of Hearts is funky electro with a retro vibe similar to that of Chromeo, and Cool Mister has a tense, dramatic groove to it that feels like a spy theme for the 25th century. I Dreamed of Chaka Khan could have been a Tiga song with its fey vocals and pumping, but smooth background. Hearkening back to the 80's, All Black is freeze-dried synthpop that melts in your mouth. Title track, Across the Towers, is driven by tight rhythms that sound like laser pistons in some rave at a NASA warehouse. Ivan's Got the Answer tells the story about some enigmatic character who could be a "joker or a thief" with a rather detached, robotic voice and refracts the music into more angularity like the speed of light bounced through a prismatic disco ball.

Pushit, which features Eddie Argos of Art Brut, is one of my favourites on the record with Argos' deadpan voice stretched taut over top of the whizzbangs of electro beats. The lyrics take us back to 1983 as Argos relates a story littered with satirical detail about cassette tapes in the car and women who wear sunglasses at night. Album closer Ours is Forever returns to some of those spacier effects that were used in Leaving Out Vowels, but slows down into a laidback electro-ballad like a cosmonaut serenading his lover over the rocket's communication system. It's both dreamy and ominous and just tapers off like a burnt-out star.

As a whole, the album is like an intense explosion in space contained by the vacuum around it - chaotic, but precise. There's always an undercurrent of energy threatening to blow the whole project satellite-high, but it remains harnessed to produce an intensely glowing core of atomic hedonism. TNT Jackson is the soundtrack to decadent urban youth racing the stars to supernova.

TNT Jackson's MySpace: