TVAM – Psychic Data (2018)

It’s very rare that an album really hits the spot on the very first cold listen but this one did for me. On Psychic Data, TVAM (aka Joe Oxley) combines shoegaze, electro, krautrock, industrial and a truckload of analogue synths to produce a sound that’s unique but instantly familiar. Effortlessly spanning the boundary between electronic music and rock music, and allowing elements from each to compliment one another in the same way as seminal acts from the early 90s golden age when rave music crossed over into indie.

And in fact Oxley’s vocal delivery is highly reminiscent of the stoned insouciance of a young Bobby Gillespie. But rather than the wide-eyed idealistic positivity of Screamedelica, the Primal Scream album Psychic Data recalls most is the dystopian industrial dirge fest, XTRMNTR (a sorely overlooked album in my opinion), in particular the final track, Shoot Speed Kill Light. The flickering looping guitar and phased vocals over the constant 1-2 motorik rhythm is the audio equivalent of the rhythmic flickering and refocusing of the video images from a faulty analogue tape. An effect that will be familiar to anyone of a certain generation, with memories of recording and re-recording TV programmes on the same grainy strip of VHS. And it’s an effect which Joe Oxley recreates and deploys masterfully throughout Psychic Data, both in the music and album artwork.

This album feels like a celebration of an aesthetic which came to the fore in the 1980s, when the proliferation of new technology seemed to open up huge opportunities – creatively, artistically and economically. Some might argue that electronic music has been perpetually in thrall ever since to the original visionaries and technology from that time (witness the endless idolisation of the Roland 909 and other ancient bits of kit). Anyway, in this case perhaps that influence partly stems from Dean Honer, of now defunct synth fetishists Add N to X (and many more), and who mixed this album. Whatever one’s thoughts on that debate, I guess retro is always cool.

Setting the tone from the off, opening track Psychic Data is a proper psyche banger. The intro initially sounds like Detroit electro-punks Adult, until the wall of sound and electric guitar riff straight out of Second Coming-era Stone Roses kicks in. Like an overused VHS tape, Oxley’s vocals are doubled over and reverbed so heavily they’re rendered unintelligble, with the effect that he sounds like some kind of wasted messiah: incomprehensible but somehow meaningful.

Next up, Narcissus is a much darker industrial-tinged track full of dirgey guitar feedback. Interestingly, Narcissus was the name of the video installation in Will Self’s re-telling of A Picture of Dorian Gray, set in the 1980s. The video installation being the 80s equivalent to the portrait from the original novel. I don’t know whether Oxley was aware of this connection; from what I can make out of the lyrics, the track leans more on the classic story of Narcissus: “I took a walk, down by the lake. I saw your face and then I stayed there for days.” Elsewhere on the album, Porsche Majeure sounds for all the world like fellow 80s synth revivalist, Com Truise. As the opening bars play you can almost see the strips of neon light, clouds of dry ice and Miami Vice suits.

Rather than the full-length songs, the short Ident pieces are the most eerily effective at tapping into those submerged parts of the subconscious (surely what any artist dealing in nostalgia strives for). So named for the short soundbites used by TV and radio stations to identify themselves, through their constant repetition the sounds become part of the general psychological landscape. I’m sure for anyone born in the late 70s or early 80s, the futuristic but warped synth sounds of Ident#7 and Ident#9 will call to mind images of bright corporate logos morphing and shining on a black background and the promise of some kind of neoliberal tech-powered utopia awaiting round the corner.

At 36 minutes, Psychic Data is a succinct album and for an artistic opening statement, Oxley manages to pack a lot in – and although thought has obviously gone into the ordering of the tracks, each of them is strong enough to stand alone. Despite the mix of influences on display, and the celebration of a retro aesthetic, this is more than a throwaway pastiche or a tribute in thrall to its influences. And for all the postmodernism and foregoing pseudo-intellectual meanderings, it’s worth pointing out that practically every track on Psychic Data is a banger. As well as the numerous buttons on his synths, Oxley knows which ones to press to induce that feeling of joyful abandon as an anthem builds to a glorious climax.

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