Review: Aesthetic Perfection – All Beauty Destroyed

We haven’t always loved everything Aesthetic Perfection have released though we are nothing short of reverent at the feet of the principal behind the project, Daniel Graves. That’s largely because of the unequalled other Graves project, the now-defunct Necessary Response. Graves balanced his two sides through these diverse projects: AP is a hard-edged industrial-influenced project full of screeched, distorted vocals with a most creepy vibe; NR was a more pop-oriented, melodic, though still edgy electronic project. He indicated a couple of years ago we was “disbanding” the latter “band” in order to focus on the former, noting how thin he was being stretched between the two. But, he noted, the next AP project could contain elements of what made NR so special. And so it was that Softsynth went from inconsistently digging Aesthetic Perfection –  enjoying a number of songs, but finding others too off-putting, too lacking in a fundamental element of songcraft – to anxiously awaiting the next one, which as it turned out would end up taking a very long time to see the light of day. Was the wait worth it? Did AE grow in all the right places? Did it evolve a promising formula beyond its worse excesses…?

In a word, hells yes (okay…two words). The loss of Necessary Response (and we cannot understate how much we loved the one album released under that name – it was highly placed on our list of the best electronic albums of the previous decade and with the passage of more time only feels like it should have been even higher), did indeed liberate Graves to broaden Aesthetic Perfection to envelop his two sides. As a result this is the most balanced, cleverly-written and accessible AP album to date.

The difficulty with this band in the past is best summed up by a trite, clichéd turn of phrase we often hear from the Pop/American/fill in your home country here Idol-type programs when confronted by a singer who goes big, “you start off so big, you have nowhere to go from there, you just put it all out there and it becomes exhausting.” (we’re paraphrasing) Every AP song came out of the blocks with so much intensity and so much scratchy, nasty, studio-distorted vocal and couldn’t modulate from there. It was too much, too in your face all the time with its ugly side. It was often unrelenting, despite the considerable songwriting talent Graves displays left, right and centre. And this made listening to Aesthetic Perfection equal parts exciting and headache-y. But now we see the AP formula cut with a little Necessary Response and the results are eye-opening and terrific.

The screeching is still front and centre. It wouldn’t be an Aesthetic Perfection album otherwise. But now Graves uses it judiciously in order to obtain maximum emotional impact. Now when it comes at you it hits you square in the gut and leaves you dazed and affected, whereas before it may have just ground you down into a submissive amassment of pulverized goo. Let’s graze the sample counter, shall we?

The title track is an utterly surprising piano-accompanied, clearly vocalized plaintive cry; “The 11th Hour” is a pretty straight-ahead dance track that feels like a duet between Graves’ two sides; “Hit the Streets” has a very conventional chord and melodic structure that he somehow manages to not only make sound fresh but adds an angry thread that is absolutely exhilarating; “A Nice Place to Visit” is unrelenting but the reward comes from a scary, intense blast of pure electronic adrenaline, “The Little Death” is a genuinely, dare we say it, pretty song that evokes a true sadness in the listener; track for track this is an insanely strong collection with more than one song that causes this listener to feel his heartbeat quickening and his pulse becoming dangerously irregular.

The bottom line is Graves is really, really good at this. He can do industrial, he can do pop, he can throw it all into a blender, then serve it up in a dirty glass mixed with a little ash, and pour it down your gullet until you’re sick, and while you’re swallowing the nausea down you’ll think to yourself, “totally worth it…” We throw the “genius” label around very sparingly – Gary Numan, check, Chris Corner, sure, Vince Clarke, absolutely, (at least until he releases a few more Tomorrow’s Worlds and washes away his claim to the label), Tom Shear, without a doubt, Clint Carney, getting there fast –  yet it doesn’t feel out of the question to say Graves is closing in on it. To so successfully marry the hard and soft sides of his musical personae, so show such smart, smart songwriting and production skills, he’s well on the way. All Beauty Destroyed shows nothing short of crazy-stupid promise. Will it end up on our top ten of ’11? – we wouldn’t take odds on it being otherwise.

This is a genuinely exciting, emotionally scathing album that opens up so many new possibilities for the Aesthetic Perfection project that the road ahead feels limitless for Mr. Graves and we absolutely can’t wait to hitch a ride.

Pretty gross album cover, though…

Watch: Inhuman

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