We want to make music that is challenging, honest, and attacks the senses,' says Geniuser vocalist Michael Allen about his latest project. An impressive body of work behind him, I Am was slated to be one of the more forward thinking electronic albums of the summer. Take one listen to the overlooked Press/Delete EP from 2009, and you’ll wonder what’s been boiling underneath the bands surface all these years later. As it turns out, there’s a litany of ideas spewing out of Allen and painter/producer Giuseppe De Bellis’ collected heads. They’ve accomplished the goal of attacking the senses on I Am, however there are few moments where any sense gets to take a break.
Several tracks on the album show their entire hand within the first few moments of the song. 'Je Suis Geniuser' and 'Disconnected' employ anything from punk bass, spoken word vocals, sequenced synths, and even bagpipe samples. The melody on 'Je Suis Geniuser' is potent, but doesn’t stop throughout the song. It’s clear that Allen and De Bellis wanted to create cacophony, but the 4-minute price tag it comes with isn’t worth it. Cutting the length or letting the melodies come in slower are easy ways in which the track could have been improved. Is it worse that these ideas were considered and scrapped, or that they never occurred to the band at all?
Following 'Je Suis' is 'Find You,' which has an embarrassingly lo-fi quality compared to the preceding tracks. Allen’s vocal performance has a punkish charge to it, but he squelches into a void of nineties trip hop rubbish that never once changes its pulse, dynamism, or instrumentation. For a man who helped pave the way for genre-bending UK electronic 30+ years ago, the track is barely reconcilable.
'Epiphany' begins the album’s second act with a wonderfully paced set of darkwave tropes. The atmospherics set the mood, the bass line sets the rhythm, and Allen’s voice slithers perfectly alongside, all over the course of 90 seconds: 'Come taste the pain/Taste your freedom/Taste your fears.' As soon as the song is well-established, the drums add an excellent final layer. It’s a wonder Geniuser didn’t decide to unpack other songs in a similar way since 'A Thousand Sorrows' follows suit to similar effect.
What also works on 'Epiphany' is the lack of specificity in the lyrics. On more buoyant and poppy tracks, this is a disadvantage. The set of disparate feelings laid out on 'Disconnected' are in keeping with I Am’s expressions of confusion: 'I’m feeling sad… I think about it hard… I’m thinking like a teacher in drag.' Each of these sentiments take unpacking, but hearing Allen unload each of them without context is mind-numbing. Here and throughout much of the album, he’s quick to explain how he feels without offering any context as to why.
Not surprisingly, Allen’s presence hearkens back to many of his eighties contemporaries. Nick Cave, Bjork, and Massive Attack influences are all present. As a result, each listen of I Am asks its listeners why they’re not listening to the classics that paved the way for Geniuser’s stew of sounds. Remove this context, and there are still problems since context is precisely what’s missing in many of the albums passages. A shortlist of tracks here are fine reminders of what made The Wolfgang Press so influential in Allen’s heyday, but I Am is too muddled in mediocrity and puzzling ideas to sound memorable.