God Lives Underwater takes off for ‘Life in the So-Called Space Age’ on new album
By Nicky Baxter
Whatever tag is pinned on God Lives Underwater’s new album, Life in the So-Called Space Age, don’t call it techno. After all, Jeff Turzo and David Reilly are just a couple of guys from Small-town USA (Perkiomenville, Pa.) whose only desire is to make technology-based music we can all live with.
Though Reilly, who writes the lyrics and does the screaming, and Turzo, who plays guitar, keyboards and doodles with all manner of whiz-bang machinery, have since re-located to L.A., they continue to record in their bedrooms–call it high-tech sounds for lo-fi music lovers.
Life in the So-Called Space Age (1500/A&M) finds God Lives Underwater holding tenaciously to its roots while edging closer to free-flowing experimentalism. Despite the sometimes futuristic imagery (robotics, behavior modification and the like), the theme remains the same from 1995’s Empty: the search for love in a cold, cruel world. Musically, however, the band is rapidly expanding its sonic horizons.
The album’s first cut, “Rearrange,” is introduced with a low, whoosing sound that gathers momentum, as some hammering percussion is gradually introduced. Suddenly everything stops–and starts anew, this time with the crackling buzz of a supersonic jet.
The music then sputters and bleeps before Reilly’s churlish vocals lash out at the ups and downs of romance. He is definitely not comfortable with change; even as he acknowledges its inevitability, he is still angry that it has to be that way.
“From Your Mouth” waltzes around the techno arena without really staying there. Turzo not only knows his mechanics, he also understands how to bend them to his will. Even as he pumps out the beats, he humanizes them by interspersing the scratches of a hip-hop mix master. Reilly’s vocal is cool and deadly; he really does remind you of an American David Bowie, a comparison he would not find disturbing.
“Alone Again,” “Behavior Modification” and “Dress Rehearsal for Reproduction” all concern themselves with a lovelorn, soul-suffocating future. It’s not explicit in the lyrics but, rather, is evoked by the music, which alternately reaches back to Stevie Wonder’s plangent synth-scapes and spins forward into the space age with an melange of otherworldly blips and whirring noises.
“Behavior Modification” sounds like a postmodern R&B ditty, with Turzo hitching himself to a funk-dunked groove (check out the kinetically chattering keyboard mixed down low). Reilly transforms himself into a viper here, hissing and seething with a seductive creepiness. This is an new millennium in which “morals are undefined.” The song’s coda is a harshly dissonant keyboard note maintained for what seems like an eternity.
On “The Rush Is Loud,” Reilly and Turzo’s vocals intertwine until they sound like Brit-poppers Squeeze whisked off into the middle of the next century. The verse–“We accuse ourselves”–is repeated over and over again in a bone-chilling mantra; here disassociation from the self is complete, making “The Rush Is Loud” one of the album’s eeriest and most effective offerings.
When Reilly whines “A shot in the arm, or a shot in the head; it’s killing me,” the horror of it all is weirdly romantic, like Shelley or Byron pointing a pistol to his temple while reading a poem. In the end, Life in the So-Called Space Age may not reveal anything new about our fears of the future, but it does make them compellingly attractive.
Original Date: 1998-05-21