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Dark electronic music at its finest, the “Electric Sun” album is one of the best offerings from the consistently stellar VNV Nation.

Music.

Ask a thousand different people what it means to them, and you’ll get a thousand different answers in response. But regardless of its personal importance, music is, for lack of a better descriptor, one of mankind’s great equalizers – after all, aside from language itself, is there anything more universal across humanity’s various cultures, geographies, and time periods than a shared fascination with cadence and rhyme?

For me, music is my livelihood. A gig that puts bread on the table and rye in the tumbler. I take the tough cases, the assignments nobody else wants. Obscurity is my specialty, strangeness my stock in trade.

While the rest of the city slumbers, I heed the call of my mysterious benefactors, investigating the interstitial information superhighways and plumbing the depths of darkened data vaults for your audiophilic pleasure.

Here are my case files, dear listener, declassified at long last, spotlighting lesser-known artists from around the globe and across the years. May they serve you well.

VNV Nation

CASE #:

0003

View the Case File Archives

TYPE OF INVESTIGATION:

Synthwave, futurepop, electro, EBM, industrial, neoclassical

NAME:

VNV Nation

SURNAME:

Electric Sun

DOB:

4/28/2023

CITIZENSHIP:

UK, Canada

ALIASES:

Bruderschaft, Modcom

KNOWN ASSOCIATES:

Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk, Assemblage 23, Torul, Diary of Dreams, Project Pitchfork, Velvet Acid Christ, Funker Vogt, Wolfsheim, Nitzer Ebb, too many others to list

VNV Nation

DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS:                     

Let’s begin this file with a pretty potent word, shall we? Just one single, five-syllable word.

Objectivity.

A rarity these days (IMO), it’s one of the most important traits when doing any sort of investigative process; remaining objective and divorcing oneself from any preconceived notions and/or fixed expectations.

Objectivity is also something that I tend to believe in wholeheartedly in all facets of life. Everything in moderation, right? Even hobbies and interests. That said, I feel it only appropriate for me to inform you, dear reader, that when it comes to VNV Nation, there will be no objectivity to be found here.

This is (and has been, without falter) one of my favorite bands for over twenty-four years. If there were ever to be a literal soundtrack to my life, VNV Nation would feature prominently on it. So, provided you can excuse my lack of neutrality, read on and discover why you should care about a band you’ve never heard of.

Emerging from the post-industrial landscape that had shaped the mid-90s, heralded by bands like Front Line Assembly, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, and Skinny Puppy, and then made popular by Nine Inch Nails, Ronan Harris’ VNV Nation was, at its inception, another electro/EBM act vying for attention in a veritable sea of similar artists.

Keep in mind that while the harsher side of electronic music had a short span of popularity in the States, it had enjoyed a consistently strong presence in Europe for many decades. At this point in time, THIS was the sound.

As such, VNV Nation initially struggled to find both an approach and an audience with their first two albums, nearly getting lost in the churn of sameness. This was also exacerbated by the fact that the band was a solo project, which is notoriously more difficult to market (most people still wanted their bands to be… well… bands).

All of that changed in 1999, when VNV’s third album, Empires, was released. Toning down the harshness in favor of a more melodic approach and featuring the absolutely masterful song “Standing”, VNV Nation was thrust into the mainstream of the electronic scene almost overnight.

Suddenly they were everywhere: touring like crazy, releasing EPs and bonus tracks, and remixing songs by other artists in the genre.

This new sound, dubbed “futurepop,” has been the backbone of VNV Nation ever since.

Ronan has perfected this kind of music, honing his craft and remaining relevant, even while other acts from the same era have changed their sound or disappeared entirely. As a fan for nearly a quarter of a century, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The eleventh album Electric Sun follows the established VNV formula almost to a T: multilayered synthesizers where you can almost feel the textures, untreated vocals that show true emotion regardless of the topic, and introspective lyrics that frequently espouse hope in a dark world (hence the VNV: Victory, not Vengeance).

While some of their earlier material was certainly geared towards the (still popular at the time) industrial dance clubs, VNV Nation has never been a high-BPM-oriented act.

That’s not to say their songs are lethargic: they aren’t. I would call them doggedly determined instead of outright aggressive.

The tracks on Electric Sun maintain that thread. This is good music to accompany you on a late-night drive, a workout session, or a bout of late-night creativity.

During the five-year gap between their last album (2018’s Noire) and this one, I have found my tastes in music evolving. Electronic music, while still very prevalent in my daily mix, isn’t quite the draw it used to be. And while Noire had a couple of stellar songs, it wasn’t a solid banger from start to finish.

So, when Electric Sun’s first single, “Before the Rain,” dropped, I wasn’t immediately hooked. However, I think that was more due to an inherent skepticism on my part as opposed to any failing of the song itself.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.

Electric Sun is a stellar album through and through.

In fact, it just might be the most compelling thing Ronan has released since 2007’s Judgement.

Though it may be light on earworm singles, there is a consistency here that has been absent for quite a while. Now that I’ve given the entire LP several full rotations, I can absolutely state that it’s one of my favorite releases of 2023, fanboy status notwithstanding.

Not a single song is filler. Even the two instrumental tracks, which surely could have just coasted along, are compelling in their own right.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Ronan is the fact that he is not afraid to pull out lesser-used and archaic words from time to time; the dude is one hell of a wordsmith. And Electric Sun contains more than a few awesome passages.

As good as it is, however, I am on the fence about whether this is a suitable album to which to introduce new listeners.

On the one hand, all VNV trademarks are present and accounted for. On the other, Electric Sun feels more expansive than what has come before, a culmination of sounds and thoughts, and concepts that may not resonate as much with someone lacking history with the band.

I don’t know… that’s a tough one. If electronic music appeals to you in any way, and you find yourself hewing closer to deep thoughts and emotion as opposed to dancefloor drops, then I would certainly give it a listen.

VNV-ELECTRIC-SUN-MC

BOLO:                     

Considering that the album and the song share a name, one would hope that the opening track Electric Sun would be appropriately epic, and boy, does it certainly deliver the goods. This is how I like my VNV: lyrical, brooding, almost dissonate at times. A plodding seven-minute-long juggernaut that is unconcerned with pretense or fluff. Just dark electro accompanied by Ronan’s distinctive drawl — beauty and harshness in equal measure. I can’t think of a better track to kick off the experience.

The second track, Before the Rain, took me a few listens before I really grew to love it, but now that I’m over that threshold, it’s more than worthy. More upbeat and urgent than Electric Sun, this one wouldn’t sound out of place on the last few VNV albums. Lighter synths and repetitious sequencers propel the song along. This I the kind of song that Ronan could create in his sleep.

Wait, the second single lifted from the album, is another hallmark VNV offering. Hovering in the lower frequencies, almost every VNV LP has one of “these” tracks: sinister, scathing, and stomping. At odds with the typically hopeful lyrics that Ronan writes, this one really rips into our indifferent and selfish society as a whole. Featuring a lengthy orchestral-sounding moment in the middle, which is very typical in some of VNV’s heavier offerings, Wait is one of my favorites, hands down.

While most albums unload their heavy hitters early, hoping to captivate the audience up front, Electric Sun’s best song comes near the end, the tenth out of twelve total tracks.

At six-and-a-half minutes, Run is exactly what I wanted to hear from Ronan. Militaristic snare drums, emotional refrains, and another melodic segue in the middle, this is where the album peaks for me (and harkens back to some of their earlier material). I have quite a handful of “definitive” VNV songs, and Run has more than earned its place among the most hallowed.

CONCLUSION OF CASE:                     

A triumphant return to form, Electric Sun reaffirms just why VNV Nation is still (all these years later) one of my favorite bands.

Yes, certain aspects of their sound are stuck firmly in the early-aughts style of electronic music, but that’s what makes them so special to me. I do not necessarily have the fondest of memories from that period of time, but the music was fucking awesome.

It may not reinvent the genre, but with Electric Sun, singer/songwriter Ronan Harris absolutely understood the assignment.

If you’re a fan of dark electronic music and haven’t heard of VNV Nation yet, you might as well fire up Spotify and get thee up to speed. Come for the powerful electronics; stay for the unusually profound lyrics.

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