Chris Randall’s ongoing project called Sister Machine Gun is a genuine creature of the nineties. When his first LPs, Sins of the Flesh and The Torture Technique were released in 1992 and 1994, they were fresh entries in the growing swell of post-industrial music that was making an exciting noise in the underground. They were exactly the sort of thing Wax Trax! records specialized in at the time: aggressive mixture of cold guitar distortion and hard, danceable electronics straight out of Chicago. Also typical of the scene, supporting band members came and went, studio players replaced by touring members, leaving the band as essentially a one-man vision executed by many. So, for good or bad, Sister Machine Gun was/is Chris Randall.
This was a good thing in 1995 when SMG’s classic record Burn was released. He traded up much of the aggression of the previous efforts for an exceedingly slick and atmospheric sound where his softly purred vocals (pretty unique in the genre) could slide beguilingly among the pulsing, crackling layers. Simultaneously chill and sexy with an air of cool menace, the new sound made for a unique record for the artist as well as for the genre at the time. Best of all, with the new effort Randall secured access to that most lofty of elites at the midpoint of the decade: Burn’s title track was included in the motion picture soundtrack to Mortal Kombat. (Side note: do you remember having seen Mortal Kombat and thought it was awesome but haven’t watched it since? Do you wonder if it holds up? Haha no. Oh my god no it doesn’t.) Its association with an abysmal film based on a video game where people frantically slap buttons for the chance to be the one to pull an endocrine system out of a yelling monster aside, Burn remains probably Sister Machine Gun’s signature track. It’s as dark and slick as a floor covered in your enemy’s brain blood. It’s a ‘Friendship’ to your ears. I’ll stop now.
Metropolis, SMG’s last effort with Wax Trax! wasn’t really a follow-up to Burn. It sounded a bit like b-sides from Torture Technique and when Randall disbanded the project in 2007 it surprised few. But then? He announced that spring of the year of Our Lord 2015 would see the return of Sister Machine Gun. I probably raised an eyebrow. I shouldn’t have.
As far as triumphant returns go, The Future Unformed isn’t one. For starters, it’s an EP. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels far longer than that. And for the most part, the songs don’t even feel finished. They feel like sketches or demos of more developed tracks that might be developed for later inclusion into a theoretical full-length. They are, therefore, uniformly unsatisfying. Not actually bad, but not really actually anything. So, in keeping with the unpolished and half-assed nature of the tracks, I present to you a song-by-song review of The Future Unformed by way of my listening notes.
“Insect” – Guitar used for melodic wall instead of thrashing. Used primarily as percussion with the simple electronics. “I am an insect/ I am a paradigm” actual lyrics for love of god. Verse/chorus chug-thump chug-thump I AM THE ENEMY guitar guitar guitar. Repetitive. Starts out interesting, never develops. Too Long.
“Coldstar” – Chill, VERY 1995 electronics. Just the same thing for 4:52 with a cute little beep-boop solo in the middle to break it up. So low key you forget it’s there. Had to keep starting over because I would start doing anything other than paying attention.
“Protest”- So repetitive. SMG was always that way but with no new ideas it really becomes grating. The production doesn’t sound advanced from the mid-nineties AT ALL. Programming is sparse and OK but undeveloped. Sounds like it’s the skeleton of a more satisfying song. Just adding some synth for atmosphere in the last minute doesn’t do anything to lessen the droning.
“Subgod” – More like “subGOOD” (how’s that for a Burn). Fuck. Enervating. Another Psychosonik type slow dance beat with some beeps and boops tossed in. For 4:19. Feels like an hour.
“Closure” – Sounds like electronic music class 101 final project. The most stripped-down and uninteresting beats possible. A bit of electro flavor flitting around but nothing develops. Absolutely nothing happens. Something please happen. Nope.
I stand by it. This is a boring release from an outfit that sounds utterly gassed. In order to infuse this release with some drama, let me depict the scene it evokes for me:
One day, reeking of desperation sweat and also of clothes left in the washer overnight, Chris Randall resolves to stop wallowing in the past and determines to get back the old magic. He walks out to the old barn, flips the switch and watches the long-dormant fluorescent lights flicker to life. The whicker of an old horse greets his ears which is weird because he doesn’t have a horse. His eyes scan the hay strewn floor and come to rest on the green, plastic covered mass he finds there. He rips the tattered tarp off of his old recording equipment, sneezes at the dust and squints through it. There they sit. Synthesizer, sequencer, guitars, etc. He cracks his knuckles. He plugs things in, powers them on. A few token taps on the synth keys confirm they still sing. He sits down. A few minutes pass. He’s got nothing. Fuck. What’s with the horse.
But like I said, maybe these tracks are just sketches. It would make sense, wouldn’t it? The Future Unformed could easily the first step to an album called The Future and wouldn’t that be clever? At least maybe it would show that Sister Machine Gun has a new trick up its sleeve. I hope it does, because I hate to see talent fizzle out. But also because “the future” this is not. “Unformed” sums it up nicely.