The evolution that has taken place in Dylan Ettinger’s sound is reflected fairly clearly in the titles that he has chosen for his two albums so far on Not Not Fun. The first, “New Age Outlaws” (2010), took the original notion of new age music that the German cosmic school coined—that was how the compilations of Innovative Communications, Klaus Schulze’s label, were called at the end of the 70s—and it sounded like the soundtrack to a dystopian science fiction film set in a world where non-Euclidian geometry and an adverse climate decided the lay of the land. The cover, in fact, was also related to this idea, simulating something similar to the grill from the film “Tron”. The second, on the other hand, is called “Lifetime Of Romance”, and it indicates a devotion to romanticism or glamour, which was associated at the end of the 70s, but especially in the early 80s, with pop with machines. A member of the Depeche Mode cult, Dylan Ettinger loves old junk, analogue noise, and his pseudo-industrial, landscape-type orientation had already got excellent results—not only in “New Age Outlaws”, but also on the single “Lion Of Judah”, which reclaimed the more dub sound of Cabaret Voltaire; but there was something that his body and heart were asking him for, and this was to write songs.
“Lifetime Of Romance” is an album of songs, but done Dylan Ettinger’s way, which is like saying that it is pop foreshortened, in disarray, and dislocated from its axis, schizoid, like a version of Depeche Mode made by a maniac. Obviously Ettinger is not imbalanced, just a freak who entertains himself with Ballard and Frank Herbert novels, ice hockey, college basketball, and wrestling in his shitty little town. His vision of reality, somewhere between cynical and disgusted, is what leads him to make music similar to what would have happened if synth-pop had been born in the industrial Midwest instead of in elegant Düsseldorf. And this is why you can see traces of Devo and the early The Human League, who weren’t from the Midwest, but from rusty Sheffield, in pieces like “Sport And Superstition” and “Disparager”.
The way that Ettinger composes is truly naïf, and it is still far from reaching a number one, even if it were a fleeting one-hit wonder, because his melodies are never well polished and the sound that surrounds and upholds the songs, as if it were the skin and skeleton, is clearly old and harsh, dirtier than the floor of a chicken coop. “Lifetime Of Romance” sounds like an update, or a well-intended reclaiming of the first singles of The Normal, Visage and the Depeche Mode of “Speak & Spell”. “Wintermute”, which is a real homage to William Gibson and his “Neuromante”, has arpeggios close to those of “Fade To Grey”, but even greyer, duller; “Arco Iris” and “Blue And Blue” are still filthy, chipped interpretations of the structures of “New Life” and “Dreaming Of Me”, respectively. At times like “Maude”, which is the longest piece on the album, the spacey Ettinger sometimes returns, the one who lets the floating sound set the pace and the destination of the journey into the unknown, and there you can tell better than at any other time the imbalance that there is between an experienced, quality cosmonaut and the apprentice synth-pop composer that he is now. New beginnings are always difficult, so we’ll give him a second chance while we long for those trippy flip-outs like the ones in “Shandor’s Dream”, which was like shooting up smack in zero gravity.