The Gaslamp Killer - Breakthrough

Think of it like all of a person’s insecurities, bad memories or negative self-talk, wallowing in your subconscious before they take to your mind’s eye with a pickaxe.

Label: Brainfeeder

Rating: 8

Like the bionic arm on the front cover, Brainfeeder’s mad scientist of psych-hop tears off his skin to reveal an interior made of blood and steel on his intensely dark and personal debut album, ‘Breakthrough’. Not only is it a ‘breakthrough’ that the man born William Benjamin Bensussen, has finally found some time away from his pedantic crate-digging to release an album, ‘Breakthrough’ appears to chronicle some disturbing instances of severe self-loathing (‘Veins’, featuring Gonjasufi’s sun-scorched croak) and soul-destroying adversity and how they have come to shape him as a man. As one might expect from an album that opens with the line, “do me a favour, and cut your veins”, Breakthrough paints in graphic detail, how he ‘broke through’ these crippling barriers; by dementedly laughing in their face and smashing shit up with psychotic relish.

Breakthrough also seems to be a ‘breakthrough’, stylistically too. While the album features the Killer’s signatures, like his favoured rattle-and-stomp drum patterns, loud, acid-stained bleeps and Eastern psych-funk motifs, its songs pace around in the shadows before occasionally jumping into the light to reveal themselves as horrifying shapes. Think of it like all of a person’s insecurities, bad memories or negative self-talk, wallowing in your subconscious before they take to your mind’s eye with a pickaxe. Early tracks like ‘Holy Mt Washington’ and ‘Critic’ provide a tense build up to the frightening all-out absurdity of ‘Flange Face’, a furious tempest of terrifyingly epic violins and huge, mechanical beats. ‘Flange Face’ represents the complete schism with reality experienced by a mind warped by burning hatred. Its fusion of disparate elements makes it seem completely insane, like a supernatural villain terrorising a city with a blizzard of fire. Elsewhere, ‘Impulse’ is incredibly unnerving with its bubbling chemical reaction of blipping electronica and rattling drums, and you’re just waiting for it to explode like the world’s unsafest meth lab. ‘Seven Years of Bad Luck Just For Fun’ is just as defiant in sound as it is in name and ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a slithering serpent of rolling percussion and a twangy sitar, playing games with its prey by making it think it’s going to attack.

But it’s not all thunder and lightning in the psyche of the beast; ‘Breakthrough’ features flints of light that reveal the possible sources of both the artist’s strength and vulnerability. ‘Nissim’ (named after Bensussen’s grandfather), is a Turkish psych-funk jam between himself, Daedelus, Amir Yahgmai and some professional Middle Eastern musicians that glides into a hashish-fuelled daydream, making you nostalgic for a time you have never even lived through. ‘Peasants, Cripples and Retards’ is a goofy, gloopy bass party, which paints him as some sort of loveable anomaly, adored for his imperfections and idiosyncrasies. These are some of the glimmers of humanity that appear in an album about a man hell-bent on protecting himself from dark forces with magic of his own.

However, the monsters in ‘Breakthrough’ never fully reveal themselves and that’s why this album is so effective. Instead, it just makes you anxious, but irresistibly curious, about what would happen if they did show their hideous faces. Perhaps this exemplifies the titular ‘breakthrough here: for all of the ugliest feelings and potential for evil that lurks beneath, we are strong enough to keep them at bay. ‘Breakthrough’ ultimately acts as an insight into what happens when a man is pushed beyond his limits and the extremely ugly defence mechanisms he combats these demons with. It also says that despite the emotional collateral, it is entirely within our own power to overcome them.

Overall, Breakthrough is an empowering listen thanks to how vivid it is in expressing these intangible feelings. Not only does the album make you feel something; it makes you feel whatever it is quite strongly. It is so much more than the hectic pastiches of exoticism that The Gaslamp Killer is famous for. Meticulous arrangements, pace, narrative and emotional authenticity are prioritized over an all-out assault of catatonia-inducing madness to convey its message. It won’t make you dance, but it will fill your mind with the sound of internal construction work boring into the darkest parts of your psyche.