Local electronic musician Vampire Nation -- a.k.a. Fredrik von Hamilton, plus various onstage members -- has been purveying his brand of eclectic, genre-straddling music for nearly a decade, quietly marketing to a national fanbase and even doing a handful of dates in England and a slot at last year's CMJ in New York, while often being ignored by area audiences. His latest opus might have a shot at changing that attitude.
In previous outings, VN has explored the realms of cosmic ambient, Middle Eastern-influenced world beat, and downtempo trip-hop, as well as various boundary-crossing combinations that have led to comparisons with the likes of Enigma or Muslimgauze. On Dead City Diary, von Hamilton has roughly divided the proceedings into three mini-suites.
The first section opens with "Let Them Eat Cake," in the tradition of VN's frequent "diss" songs (this one castigates certain members of the goth scene who dismiss his music), and then unfolds with three tracks emphasizing flamenco rhythms and Spanish classical guitar, of all things. But the private Ottmar Liebert concert doesn't last long. By track five, "Bite" (most song titles here describe what would happen if you were a hapless fly caught in his spider web), the gears shift into head-nodding hip hop. Except for some jazziness and record crackling on "Final Curtain," VN doesn't limit himself to the underground, but makes attempts to match the production of mainstream thug rap and is surprisingly successful. With considerable bass frequencies, these are the joints you bump in your ride when you want to turn heads. Among the most dramatic-sounding are "Snag" and "Entrapment," with boom-bap beats one might imagine Bone Thugs or Jay-Z rhyming over. Certainly, VN could have a future as a hip-hop producer if he felt like diversifying his musical portfolio.
And speaking of variety, Dead City takes a whole 'nother turn by track 12, where the mood morphs into echo-laden breakbeat and, finally, full-on ambient techno. On the funky "Wounded," he overlays plenty of his trademark dense keyboard atmospheres, but the real floor-bangers are "The Snare" and the secret, hidden 17th track. Both are sublime trance-techno songs, as good as anything churned out by Paul Oakenfold. The rub is that with a smidgen of angst-ridden, Teutonic, Depechey vocals over the top, they would sound just like the trancey neo-industrial thud currently infecting so-called-goth dance floors. Is Vampire Nation getting its revenge on VNV Nation? Maybe, but Dead City's versatility is so disparate that von Hamilton could theoretically split himself into distinct personas (as many electronic artists do nowadays) and keep on barreling forward in several different directions without slowing down. It'll be interesting to see what happens from here.