For a band that is still only about a decade old, Factory Floor have undergone a lot of changes, some intentional, others out of necessity. The London-based outfit made a purposeful shift away from the industrial-leaning plod of early singles like “Lying” and “A Wooden Box” into more dance floor-friendly, yet still jagged-edged fare that made up their self-titled full-length from 2013.
The modifications that they undertook for their latest LP, 25 25, were somewhat forced upon them after the departure of keyboardist Dominic Butler. It hasn’t resulted in a huge shift within the songwriting — the material here could have easily fit within the grooves of their previous album — but percussionist Gabriel Gurnsey and singer/guitarist Nik Colk are choosing to more fully embrace the synthetic.
Colk’s vocals throughout have been manipulated and pitch-shifted away from a normal human register. It would appear that a soused alien is interjecting little yeahs and sighs through “Upper Left” and their Detroit techno homage “Ya” is capped by what sounds like an exhausted computer intoning the song’s title. Even when the voice gets closer to Colk’s timbre, as on the watery house track “Slow Listen”, her voice is turned goopy or looped into oblivion.
That they extended that same thinking to Gurnsey’s drums is perhaps their strangest decision. One of the fulcrums of Factory Floor’s sound to date was the raw, organic slap of an acoustic kit. It kept the songs grounded somehow. Throughout 25 25, only the hi-hat and kick drum sound at all untouched. That’s a relatively sensible choice considering those two pieces of a trap kit drive the sound of all dance music. But his use of electronic drums and sending the real snare and toms through a bank of effects diminishes the effect greatly.
When it suits the song, though, the feeling is pure delight. “Dial Me In” may be a direct rip of something from Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order (whose drummer Stephen Morris has produced, remixed, and otherwise encouraged Factory Floor) with a little “Jack the House” flavor thrown in for good measure, but they stitch it all together masterfully using a relentless synth melody and percussion clatter. “Slow Listen” rides one groove for nearly eight minutes that could invoke the same kind of trance state usually reserved for Steve Reich’s polyrhythms.
What 25 25 is missing are those necessary bits of relief that were worked into their previous album. Placed throughout Factory Floor were interstitial tracks — one a simple sequenced synth line, another a minimalist guitar instrumental — that offered some breathing room from the unceasing drive of the songs around them. You get no such quarter here outside of the small breaks between tunes. A small detail to be sure, but unless they decided to mix everything together like one long DJ set, the duo needs to let a little air into the room every now and again.
With those caveats in mind, it needs to be emphasized that 25 25 has its strengths — but even still it doesn’t feel like a record meant for casual listening. This is an album you need to be in the right mindset for. Knowing that you’re going to be treated to nonstop beats and pulses will go a long way towards initial and continued enjoyment of this one. Either that or rip out the good moments here and there and drop those bits into your daily life like a good DJ mix.
Essential Tracks: “Ya”, “Dial Me In”