With The Air Conditioned Nightmare, Doldrums steps out on the shadows and gives his weird electronic stylings something that can cross into some mainstream appeal. What can we say of Canadian musician Airick Woodhead? Well he first caught my attention via my friend two years ago with a not so enjoyable interview we conducted with him and a much more enjoyable debut album with Lesser Evil (under the moniker Doldrums), an album which I can only describe as weird electronica, not really conforming too much to the norms of the genres being meshed together but in turn making for a sometimes difficult if not banging listen. Now in 2015 he’s following that up with his second effort The Air Conditioned Nightmare, which admittedly I thought might suffer from that infamous second album syndrome. Not the case.
It’s quite difficult to describe the sound of Doldrums, but it’s essentially a lot of different electronic sounds blended together in a way that doesn’t go horribly wrong. What The Air Conditioned Nightmare does differently is being a more focused album than Lesser Evil and conforming to more of a structure, which in this instance is actually a positive. The line between conformity and experimentation is a difficult one to balance but it feels like Airick has learned from Lesser Evil being a little too introverted for everyone to enjoy and instead taking what’s really unique about his music and putting that into more ‘songs’, rather than pure soundscapes.
It’s quite nice to see really. There was certainly the potential there with Lesser Evil on songs like Anomaly and the title track and The Air Conditioned Nightmare feels like an album of those songs, with just really interesting and unique sounding pieces but not veering into the kind of territory that requires several narcotics. But then maybe I’m just the sort of weirdo who can appreciate this album. I like electronic music, but only very specific things and I’d hardly call it my area of expertise. All I know though is that this album is something I can listen to throughout without any difficulty and there’s actually a lot of depth and variation contained within, something which always proves to be a sticking point whenever I try to listen to an electronic or dance album.
On the one hand you have the much harder-edged songs you can no doubt lose yourself to on the metaphorical dance floor like ‘Blow Away’ and ‘My Friend Simjen’, the latter of which is probably the most fucked up song Pet Shop Boys never made, complete with tone shifted deep man vocals. Then there’s much slower and more textured songs like ‘Video Hostage’ and album closer ‘Closer 2 U’. It could be easy to write it off as all just electronic, but there’s a lot of depth there and Airick can certainly write some great songs. It’s not like there’s never been anyone who’s sounded like Doldrums, but there’s definitely something unique about the music he makes and in turn it makes him standout. It’s all a little disturbing sounding in a good way, and doesn’t feel like it’s influenced too much from the past. An album for our not completely dystopian present and future.
Much like how Anomaly and Lesser Evil were a hint of where Doldrums could go next, final single and The Air Conditioned Nightmare’s best track Loops is nothing short of a hot banger with legitimate mainstream crossover. As heavy and electronic as Doldrums’ work is, there isn’t much you can sneakily slip into a mate’s house party mix and get away with. Loops is, with its electronic equivalent of loud-quiet-loud and even with a blatant drop that would get the most cloth-eared of your Uni associates who think dance music begins and ends with David Guetta moving. It’s just a really great dance track that does everything you want it to and if Doldrums continues to do more work like that then it could be really exciting.
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I guess in essence what makes The Air Conditioned Nightmare an outlier in the second album theory is there’s a feeling a humanity. That might sound really pretentious, but with Lesser Evil there’s a atmosphere of coldness surrounding it in its instrumentation and slightly synthesized vocals, whereas whatever buttons Doldrums is pushing here have a bit of heart behind them, which could just be down to the more focused song structure or by his vocals being much less filtered this time around. At times he certainly reminds me of another effeminate artist who’s very fond of electronica, and with some more albums, there’s no reason that the promise that Airick has delivered on from Lesser Evil can’t develop even greater and further.
So in conclusion, The Air Conditioned Nightmare is a nice surprise for a cynic like me who thought Doldrums might have just been a one album and out kinda thing and a good electronic album that’s certainly a lot more accessible than Lesser Evil but for all the right reasons. It complements that first album well but equally can stand on its own two feet and showcases how Airick has developed as an artist to craft his own unique take on the genre. And really at the end of the day, it’s just a pretty decent listen.