VR SEX- Rough Dimension (Album Review)

March 29, 2022


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Drab Majesty’s cold yet inviting take on gothic rock, synthpop, and darkwave has made them one of my favorite new acts of the last decade, so I was naturally interested when I discovered that musician Andrew Clinco had another project called VR SEX a few years back.  Under the name of Noel Skum (an anagram of Elon Musk), VR SEX has emerged as its own entity over the past few years, with 2019’s Human Traffic Jam emphasizing the punk side of the sound with a grittier and grimier approach.  While that album started off strong, the second half emphasized a lot of recorded samples and elements that didn’t come through as fully realized which resulted in a bit of an uneven listen.  It was unclear if Clinco would be able to fully differentiate this band from his work in Drab Majesty, but with Rough Dimension he has come closer.  Building upon the foundation of Human Traffic Jam while injecting additional grittiness and jagged edges, this is a tighter effort that finds VR SEX beginning to find its own voice.

It’s probably unavoidable for this group to draw Drab Majesty comparisons, as any time those darker yet warm synths come through on Rough Dimension listeners are still likely to think of specific Deb Demure cuts.  But every time that happens Clinco seems happy to flip the script only a few moments later, turning the corner from brighter textures into buzzing guitars and a colder drum machine that will have you feeling like you’ll need a shower afterwards.  “Walk of Fame” is a perfect example, as the first half of the song lets airier melodies expand slowly in a way that sounds like it could have been ripped right out of the last two Drab Majesty albums but as it reaches its climax things go sideways with a cascade of noisy and jagged guitars.  Here VR SEX seems to be leaning much more into his post punk and gothic rock inclinations while still incorporating some synthpop to create a back and forth of beauty and seediness.  Each time through brought forth thoughts of groups like Killing Joke and The Sisters of Mercy alongside hints of Rudimentary Peni and Christian Death, but the way the synths intertwine with the guitars give the sound a different sound than mere worship.  Admittedly while Rough Dimension is a tighter listen with each half having some clear highlights, there are still a few missteps.  A few of the post punk tracks are a little too stripped down, as the driving rhythms of “Crisis Stage” and “Snake Water” are catchy at first but start to drag and overstay their welcome.  Yet songs like “Victim or Vixen”, “Glutton for Love”, and “End Vision” are so strong that they’ve kept me returning to this hazy fever dream frequently.

No matter which of his bands you’re listening to, Clinco’s voice has become instantly recognizable over the last few years.  As Deb Demure in Drab Majesty, this has resulted in a more ethereal and warm tone that uses a static delivery to feel like something mysterious, while Noel Skum’s take is appropriately gritty and in your face.  This is where the post punk elements come through a bit more, as the harsher inflection on opener “Victim or Vixen” immediately grabs your attention.  There are still tracks where a more monotone approach is adopted, as if Skum is coming down from the fever dream in real time, but the performance feels more diverse overall.  I know some people that liked Drab Majesty’s smoother haven’t found VR SEX’s rougher edges to be as appealing and that’s still likely to be the case here, but if you can appreciate the grime there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Human Traffic Jam had some great individual songs but an uneven second half, and I found myself returning to it less frequently than anything in Drab Majesty’s discography.  Rough Dimension feels like a significant leap forward for VR SEX, as it comes across as more focused and leans even further into post punk in ways that differentiate it.  Some repetition remains and from beginning to end I don’t think this quite reaches the same level of The Demonstration or Modern Mirror, but there’s still enough substance to keep this one in regular rotation.  It’s exciting to see VR SEX charting its own path forward and diverging from Clinco’s other work, so I expect even greater things on the horizon.  Rough Dimension is available from Dais Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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