Gary War Gary WarPolice Water
If I could have a cup of coffee and a bagel today with Gary War, I’d ask him if he reads science fiction. More exactly, I’d like to know if he is familiar with the work of Olaf Stapledon and, specifically, his first novel, “Last and First Men”. If he answered affirmatively—and not only affirmatively, but with the boundless enthusiasm of a fan—I would steer the conversation towards the concept of alternate history and the writing—more fictional than a rigorous study, of course—that tried, at the end of the 80’s, to predict the future based on objective facts about the present and probable dynamics of change (the exact opposite of Nostradamus and close to the psychohistory imagined by Asimov). If this were the case, then Gary War would talk a lot, and not only would he confess himself to be a fan of the television series “Cosmos”, which in its episodes dedicated to the Solar System warned of the dangers of a nuclear war, but he would also be up on W. Warren Wagar’s “A Short History of the Future”, the most fascinating book of possible, but unlikely history, a summary of what the evolution of humanity, politics, economy, and world society would be from 1995 to 2200. I would ask him all of this because his albums, especially “Horribles Parade” (2009), more than hypnagogia, that is to say, more than like a fuzzy memory of early childhood, sound like imagining a parallel evolution of music with a hint of naiveté and utopia. They aren’t songs that look backwards, but rather forwards (but from the past). He isn’t interested in recovering feelings of yore, but rather in imagining scenarios for tomorrow in which the possibilities are many. His future is motley and disparate, but the futures of those books were too, and they still seem wonderful to us.
In comparison with other creators who are bringing synth music back in New York—at one extreme, James Ferraro and his chaotic pile-up of mangled guitars, tropical drones, sounds sampled from television, and virtuoso scales of hysterical keyboards; at the other extreme we have the italodisco and pop romanticism of Games . Gary War is at a halfway point that apparently gets him points taken away for not being very daring (we’ll see that in reality this isn’t the case). That “That We Can Play EP” by Games borders on melodic perfection, a coherent retro fantasy in which the sound is wonderfully polished; it’s a vinyl that transmits light and happiness. Ferraro’s home-made releases (on CD-R, cassette, and limited vinyl) are a blow-out of disorder, like a teenager’s lair. Gary War is chaotic to a certain extent, at the same time that he is as much of a perfectionist as Daniel Lopatin, 50% of Games, also responsible for Oneohtrix Point Never, without reaching the obsession of a control freak. Even evolving towards a clean sound in comparison with “Horribles Parade”, “Police Water” is neither as delirious nor as alcoholic as what his direct competition is releasing to the underground.
But Gary War is lovable and, at the end of the day, his creations, which look like monsters cobbled together, reveal themselves to be balanced experiments in exultant pop in which tribal rhythms give way to keyboards with a laser halo and a sound that stretches out like the tail of a kite. I imagine old Gary in his home studio in Brooklyn this way: going back mentally to the 80’s that fascinate him so much, between John Foxx and Thomas Dolby –and with an obvious desire to emulate Steve Strange or his namesake Gary Numan, as well as a love for plastic material and powerful synthesisers– and then imagine a possible future from there. A future in which the musical points of departure are post-punk and Kraftwerk, but in which there are no variables in the form of hip hop, Madonna, or any other mainstream accident—the equation must be incorrect, by definition. Gary War’s dream is that of bustling neon cities in which it rains acid and people walk around disoriented, but with pretty electric blue clothing, and their new songs continue in that vein: a baroque “Blade Runner”, making no sense. “Police Water”, which is already a very Douglas Adams sci-fi title, is a feast of Oberheims and Junos about whom we have already had news this year in material as intriguing as the Austin producer called S U R V I V E: a head-on attack of synth and a buried idea of pop. In fact, it’s very hard to understand what Gary is singing: between the vocoder with a brassy texture, and how low the voice is recorded, it sounds more like a fly trapped in a speaker than a human being with feelings and a need for communication.
This mini-album is full of good moments–it’s a half-hour EP that will open the way for Gary War’s real LP in the spring– and of them, I prefer the central section: “On It’s Head” (here we already have to turn over the record at the end of the groove), “Grounds for Termination” and “Sirens”. The CD includes two more songs, but deep down they are a poisoned bonus: they sound more post-punk, with Joy Division demo guitars, a lo-fi production that scratches the wall of your ear. Yes, it makes it longer and shows the part of War that is closer to Ferraro, but once you’ve stood under its shower of corrosive synthesisers and you’ve felt the strange hedonism implicit within them, going towards the shadows is more complicated. If I could have a cup of coffee and a bagel today with Gary War, I’d also like to ask him whether the future album, which he will start to produce next month, will all be like “Born of Light”, the opening. If he said yes, then I would give him a hug and say thank you.