Once in a while you’re surprised by an album. You’re not looking for it, but out of the blue an album drops from the ether and into your lap and sort of blows your mind. The band Reflex Condition just dropped their album Unknown Restraints last Friday and by now I’ve listened to it four or five times. Each time I listen to it the album gets better, while also getting a little weirder. It’s like a strange photo you can’t quite make out, but as it gains more focus the colors pop, the stark contrasts of light and dark become more significant, but you’re still not any closer to figuring out just what the hell you’re looking at. That’s the trip you take with Reflex Condition’s Unknown Restraints.
The album cover by Eric Adrian Lee is what pulled me in first. Lee is a first rate artist, and his album art has been some of the most engaging and thought-provoking I’ve seen in years. Unknown Restraints is no exception. Lee’s ability to capture the mood of a record is his gift, and he excels at the sci-fi, dystopian, and horror vibes. With Reflex Condition’s new album the cover art is striking and mildly disturbing, which won me over completely. I had to hear what this record was all about so I hit up Third Kind Records’ Bandcamp page and was completely blown away. Unknown Restraints is a full-on bizarro electronic masterpiece. Wonky synths, robotic vocals, and just the right amount of darkness to make the pop leaning tracks shine.
Reflex Condition is a one man band out of New Zealand, the brainchild of a cat who calls himself Micky Mike. The band began around 1993 and was a full-on home project, with Micky Mike recording in various rooms of his house on a X15 Fostex Four Track Porta-Studio. Tape sampling, editing, field recordings and crazy effects were the name of the game. Reflex Condition was an avenue of experimentation and letting inspiration dictate the vibe. It seems that all these years later Micky Mike stands by that initial mission statement, only now he’s got way nicer gadgets to play with.
Unknown Restraints, to my ears, sounds like pop music for androids. There’s a dystopian element to the robo rhythms and buzzsaw sonics, but always a deep-seeded melody that grabs your ear every time. “Blue Pyramid” sounds like Bernard Szanjer and Art of Noise with moments of absolute circuital madness. It’s like AI attempting to create early 80s alternative electronic music. Kraftwerk with the motherboard on fire. It’s lush madness. “Come With Me” has a quieter, more restrained feel with wonky vocals. It has the feel of The Motels fronted by Max Headroom. “End Of The World” slithers like some lost track off Visions of Dune. I love the sonic tightrope act Reflex Condition does here between experimental and pop. This track in-particular has moments of absolute grandeur.
Where so many albums are over before you can even think about what you just heard, Unknown Restraints is well over an hour long. It’s a journey kind of album. The songs are long, with the shortest hitting four and a half minutes while the longest just under eight minutes. Reflex Condition takes its time laying waste to your psyche, bringing the spirit of the aforementioned Bernard Szajner(Z), Rüdiger Lorenz, and early OMD into his sonic tapestry. You can also hear similarities to contemporary synth artists like Simon Pott(Isvisible Isinvisible), Timothy Fife(Victims), and Alone in the Woods as well.
Tracks like “El Mondo”, “Sharks Patrol These Waters”, “Atmosphere Transmitter”, and album closer “Lantern Night” switch up Reflex Condition’s sound palate enough to give us different moods, vibes, and emotional heft throughout in order to give us an album that never sounds same-y or stagnant. Unknown Restraints is an album that stands out among a sea of many. It’s weird, eccentric, melodic, and dark in just the right places. It’s a must for fans of off-kilter, out-of-the-box electronic music. Fans like me. And you, too.
8.3 out of 10
Unknown Restraints is available now via Third Kind Records. Order it here.