My first encounter with the gothic/industrial music project known Android Lust – the work of multi-talented New York artist Shikhee D'iordna – was about five years ago, when I came across the surreal and nightmarish video for Stained from her first full-length album The Dividing. The video seemed inspired by the cold, claustrophobic visuals of Vincenzo Natali's sci-fi/horror film Cube, and featured multiple clones of Shikhee slinking through a sterile, mirrored labyrinth as a thick black ooze began oozing from every corner... then from her mouth... then from the video image itself. It's chilling in its simplicity, and left a lasting impression.
Comparisons to Nine Inch Nails were already circulating back then... like Trent Reznor, Shikhee has total artistic control, an eccentric approach and a tortured worldview, but she also had her own musical agenda and invented her own set of creative rules, modifying the Android Lust sound over the years through further live and studio experimentation and some interesting remix projects. Now she's finally released her new full-length record The Human Animal through her own label, and the latest evolution of her seductively sinister sound still has the power to haunt your dreams. Turn the page for a full review...
When The Dividing made its mark back in 2002, a raw, skeletal simplicity of electronic pulses and drones formed the backdrop for tormented lyrics delivered in Shikhee's ghostly voice – which ranges from a pained, frail whisper to a banshee-like screech – and that chilling heart still beats at the center of this project. But a lot of organic elements have been introduced in the years to follow, and the blending of human fragility and unfeeling technology results in a tragic but fascinating horror tale straight out of an early David Cronenberg movie.
Blending solid electronic compositions, found sounds gathered from NYC streets and subways via portable recorder, and contributions from Shikhee's live band, The Human Animal is a macabre collage of layers and textures, all wired, patched and welded into a harsh electro-rock framework to the point where it's often hard to pick out where one element ends and the next begins... but everything is tied together by the brooding lyrics, which explore feelings of isolation, lust and pain through Shikhee's unique and powerful vocals. While not strictly a concept album, this project does stick to a theme, which Shikhee has described as “a journey through the psyche of man, as man realizes the futility of living in the grips of ego and surrenders to seek answers within.”
That theme becomes immediately apparent as the chaotic street noises and vocal samples of Intimate Stranger kick off the album with a note of tension and uncertainty, finally dissolving into white noise. But the sexually-charged Rub Me Raw manages to release that tension, becoming one of the strongest entries on the album both lyrically and vocally, and features a great throbbing (yes, throbbing) bass & rhythm line. That horny undercurrent continues in the breathy, heated vocals and harsh, overdriven lead guitar of Saint Over.
Cryptic, shuffling synth pulses and surreal, dissonant guitar leads make God in the Hole a decidedly dark mid-tempo dance number that should score major marks in goth circles. Former NIN drummer Jerome Dillon later gives God in the Hole a surprisingly romantic remix treatment, soaking Shikhee's voice with reverb – while still retaining the intimacy of her lyrics – before slipping a dark, muffled piano and synthetic rhythms underneath.
The imprint of Shikhee's backing band comes through most effectively in tracks like Into the Sun, where fuzzy percussion samples and low bass create a gritty vibe – an interesting contrast to the surprisingly optimistic lyrics – and climaxes with an incredibly cool guitar riff. This more uplifting mood continues in the cosmic groove of One World, which features some smooth and subtle layers of electric and acoustic guitar. Human crowd noises are crushed and distorted into hive-like buzzing at the beginning of the bluesy cut A New Heaven, which contrasts Shikhee's smooth alto with a rolling deep bass guitar line and theremin-like wails.
There's still a few challenging sonic experiments in here: the minimalist beats and piercing vocal layers of It's on You make for an unsettling but fascinating experience, and The Return takes on a dirge-like quality with its reverb-soaked vocal soars and string-like synth buzzing. Flow (of Impermanence) is a more overtly industrial piece, opening with a creepy drone and climbing through layers of crushed beat loops and cold synth strings, with a more subdued vocal line slipping between them.
The production on The Human Animal expands the musical boundaries explored by Shikhee's songs without spoiling their raw, dangerous beauty. The result is feels more organic and emotionally raw than a lot of her early output, and a cool progression in the Android Lust sound. It's still dark, complex, and disturbing, with a heavy undercurrent of sexual tension – I wouldn't want it any other way – but as a musical work it's actually pretty accessible. If you find yourself in a naughty mood on a cold, rainy night, you might want to give this one a spin... especially if you've got a like-minded (and maybe a little kinky) friend to share it with.