Asylums – ‘Alien Human Emotions’

By Andy Joice

It’s generally acknowledged that music and society are closely intertwined. From Lou Reed and Warhol’s Factory to Dead Kennedy’s ‘Holiday In Cambodia’, they reflect the landscape around them. Given the somewhat tumultuous state the world is in, both politically and societally, perhaps this is what drove London four-piece Asylums to push themselves and avoid ‘second album syndrome’, using it as leverage to get a darker, more experimental tone. Older, wiser and possibly more jaded, they’ve produced a broody, relevant record in ‘Alien Human Emotions’. Released on their own much respected label, Cool Things Records, Asylums manage to meld their experimental nature with a grittier, slightly darker sound.

Opening with ‘Day Release To The Moon’, the record starts gently, with mellow harmonies before reaching its rousing chorus. Elements of Thom Yorke emanate from Luke Branch’s delivery throughout, with softly sung verses bounding into the gravelly chorus, displaying early in the album his vocal dexterity.

Swiftly following that is the lead single, ‘When We Wake Up’. A song that works as good sound-tracking a road trip as it would in the midst of a sweaty, beer-soaked festival, it’s overtly summery and uplifting. Reminiscent of early Feeder, it’s a nostalgia trip that personally reminded me of being young, naive and free. Ironically, that’s the opposite of the songs base message. A subtle, if scathing view on the demise and disintegration of society. Worrisome stuff indeed.

Taking a slight detour from the slightly poppier tracks, ‘Bottle Bank’ and ‘Napalm Bubblegum’ channel a dirtier sound than some of the previously mentioned. Dripping with attitude and writhing with rage, there’s a level of frustration that can’t help but seep out, similar to Slaves. Following on with themes of the regression of culture and the almost need for addiction, Branch spits words with such venom it’s like being beaten round the head with a brick.

As the album starts to come to a close, there’s a shift in delivery. Stepping away slightly from the frenetic energy, Asylums bring a gentler sound starting with ‘Sexual Automation’. Following the classic Pixies Guide To Songwriting, it echoes with soft verses and a powerful chorus. Built around the stigma of one night stands and the general perceived lack of effort, it’s a bitter approach to sex. With line like ‘sterilise the germ of life’ and ‘stimulate the blood vessels’, never has a song entirely based around the mechanics of sex been so unsexy. Which clearly adds to their credence that it may be less important than some believe it to be. Speculative but plausible.

Closer ‘The Company You Keep’ is a wonderful, slow burning ballad. Essentially a love song, it’s a delicate ode to friendship. It’s a thinking piece, designed to emote memories to the listener of those they love and care for. And if ‘Napalm Bubblegum’ shows the intensity and bubbling rage in Branch’s voice, ‘The Company You Keep’ proves he has fragility and tenderness within his oeuvre.

Though there are many political and societal references throughout the album, at no point does it feel preachy or overwhelming. It’s all very subtle and muted, made with wry wit and a the occasional helping of venom. They’re not just lyrics. They’re poems. And Asylums are wordsmiths who’ve mastered their craft with precision and finesse. There’s no wasted syllable. It’s just art.


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