TWIST HELIX – Machinery

Let’s throw away inhibition and engage…

Having made a big impact with their 2018 album Ouseburn (see our sister site The Electricity Club’s review previously), Newcastle outfit Twist Helix return with their new studio album Machinery.

Consisting of Bea Garcia (synth, vocals), James Walker (drums) and Matthew Barron (bass), Twist Helix have established themselves as an outfit that delivers bold, exultant pop tunes. There’s a tight, dynamic quality to their sound which shows that they’re adept at trimming the fat.

Previously, Ouseburn also demonstrated that the electropop trio could weave in social commentary into their music with an emotional impact (in the case of that album, the troubles that afflict music communities, particularly the Ouseburn area of Newcastle). Machinery continues that tradition with eleven tracks of pulsating pop that also address contemporary concerns.

Album opener ‘Louder’ sees Twist Helix offers up a strident slice of electropop which showcases Bea Garcia’s heartfelt vocal delivery. “’Louder’ is about my frustration with the music industry” suggested Twist Helix’s singer in an interview for Atwood Magazine, “the ingrained gender imbalance at festivals, the absence of female artists at industry events, and my exasperation at feeling trapped between being either ignored or made voiceless.”

“In my own experience it just seems like we’ve had to tour more, graft harder and shout louder just to get a minimum of attention from the gatekeepers of the industry” offers an exasperated Garcia.

As a result, ‘Louder’ offers a euphoric catharsis of that frustration which is epitomised in lines such as “Biting on my tongue forever/Forever I choke back on all of my needs”. The music itself delivers pop hooks and shimmering synths that show an evolution of the Twist Helix sound. At times, it seems to draw in a combo of modern-era OMD with a slight nod to Marina.

That theme of gender disparity is continued on the percussive power of ‘Ghost’, a tune that allows James Walker to really give the drums a thorough workout. Meanwhile, Garcia’s soaring vocals get straight to the point (“Just ’cause I’m a girl/I’ve become a ghost”).

The anthemic ‘Frida Kahlo’ takes inspiration from the iconic Mexican artist, offering commentary on vanity, art and the striving for authenticity. With big synth chords and a boisterous percussive base, it’s an energetic outing that has all the classic Twist Helix qualities. “’Frida Kahlo’ is a song about identity” offers the band in discussing the new song, “How in an online world we self fashion an image of ourselves by referencing popular culture and art, telling people what we like, who we follow, what we wish to be, in a manner akin to the tradition of self-portraits.”

“The track is not so much about Frida herself but how the mass consumption of images deviates from a true understanding of the self in favour of the popular, current, now.”

The album’s title track plays around with effective breakdowns on a track that uses the pertinent analogy of machinery, reflecting the declining industrial heart of the north. Although lines like “Sometimes this world feels so cold” might suggest pessimism, the track ultimately builds to a more hopeful future. It’s a synth anthem for the modern era.

There’s a more reflective element on ‘Festival Season’, which seems to offer a haunting (and timely) narrative on the collapse of live performances. But it’s a song that also looks at the passing of time and the often fleeting friendships that spring up through live events. Certainly, poignant lines such as “We lost one another like the weekend’s hangover” have an evocative element to them.

Elsewhere, there’s an intermission of sorts with the tumbling, angsty instrumental ‘Transmission’. It’s a break to get your breath back as the album kicks off for its final half with the stunning ‘Vultures’.

Dealing with themes of exploitation (“Chews you up, spits you out/He’s a vulture”), ‘Vultures’ is a magnificently brash electropop banger that carries its message across its relentless, thumping synth-pop drive. The band also don’t mince words on what that message is: “From our point of view the music industry exists to extract works from creatives whilst divesting them of a sense of their worth and their feeling of agency.”

Similarly, ‘Exposure’ plays with lyrical ideas of cold landscapes to illustrate the often rocky road the music industry delivers. In a spoken word segment, Garcia delivers an acidic commentary on it all: “Cheap lager, lads in Parkas, hands stamped in magic markers/Dodgy promoters, spiteful bands, gangs of thieves and their joyless fans.”

The album bows out with the spirited ‘Good Night Little England’, a powerful polemic on Brexit Britain (“Here’s a song for the North Sea, for all the things that divide you from me”). The song employs a dynamic vocal melody matched with some slick synths. There’s a brooding, gothic quality at work here, despite the track’s widescreen pop aspirations, but it’s a compelling composition to end the album on.

Ultimately, Machinery illustrates that Twist Helix are a band that’s continually evolving, but also a band that proudly stick to their strengths for euphoric pop bangers.

Machinery is out now:

This review originally appeared on The Electricity Club