An anime-esque illustration of a tan android in an explosion.

National Review: Machine Girl – SUPER FREQ

National Music Reviews

Machine Girl
FREQ Records

Street: 04.15
Machine Girl = Atari Teenage Riot + Dillinger Escape Plan

Machine Girl is a lot of things: Grotesque, vulgar, orchestral, anthemic and, above all else, catchy. The digital hardcore duo has roused from their two-year slumber to deliver a highly anticipated extended play after hinting at new music following their recent tours with The Garden and 100 Gecs. Their latest release, SUPER FREQ, boasts a 10-minute run time and only three tracks, but don’t let the size of the project deceive you. SUPER FREQ does to your eardrums what a pack of Mentos does to a bottle of Coke, including the fizzle out at the end.

SUPER FREQ is described on Machine Girl’s Bandcamp more or less as an introductory piece to a much larger puzzle— a puzzle I feel is pertinent to understanding the record. “FREQ” is an up and coming graphic novel tied to writer Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Ergo Proxy) and illustrator goodnewsforbadguys, all spearheaded by Nicola Kazimir, another electronic musician turned writer. This initial collection is reportedly the first of a series in the FREQ canon. Although writing a soundtrack for a static visual narrative like a comic is unorthodox, it isn’t unheard of, with artists like world renowned singer-songwriter Mitski contributing to Chris Miskiewicz and Vincent Kings’ work, This Is Where We Fall also in the form of a three-song EP back in 2021.

I felt it necessary to explain the EP’s conception, given that it’s been almost four years since MG released a studio album, and if you’re like me, you dove in immediately because you thought that’s what this was. I won’t lie, I was disappointed to be greeted by another soundtrack instead of an LP. However, like with MG’s previous soundtrack work on Neon White, this doesn’t feel like a dumbed-down or heavily controlled body of work…mostly. We’re still getting the full Machine Girl experience, but only up to a point. At its best, this project is a call back to Machine Girl’s lighter, melodic compilations like Gemini and RePorpoised Phantasies while maintaining the same edge and raw force found on BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR. But at its worst, it’s a soundtrack.

Black Glass,” the first of the three tracks, stands out to me as the most rhythmic and dance-able. Starting with a soft chime loop before crashing into a characteristically glitchy and fast number, lush with scratchy drums and intricately layered vocals provided by none other than Matt Stephenson. Stephenson’s vocals rise and fall, going from hardcore-style-shouty-talk-singing in the verses to declarative and almost anthem-like in the chorus. The word for this song is infectious. “Black Glass” is classic MG at their most classic. What has always made Machine Girl stand apart for me from other breakcore artists is their commitment to unique production. Whereas many other creators in the genre stick to the same samples and approaches to music-making that prevent them from standing out, each MG song is unique, with different sounds and textures every time and a structure that feels like that of a symphony— a multitude of separate moving parts that ricochet off of one another to create something greater than the sum of its parts. 

Lyrically, “Black Glass” may be a new favorite of mine with lines such as “Don’t ignore the message, answer the call / Crawl into a cave before it’s gone / Before the future turns to ashes / Before your blood turns into plastic.” These themes of destruction and rebellion aren’t newfound territory for MG by any means, but the mental image of blood coagulating into hard solid is something straight out of Akira and I love it.

The next track, “Dance in the Fire” is reminiscent of other tracks from past projects like “Blood Magic” and “Devil Speak” from U-Void Synthesizer with its overall bounce. The wubby-bass reminded me of 2010’s dubstep, and contrasts surprisingly well with the sharp-but-steady drums and saws. It also maintains the same chant-like vocals on “Black Glass” that make me wish I was screaming along with it in a basement party in Berlin.

The power and drive of these two tracks unfortunately comes to a screeching halt with the last song, “Big Time Freq.” The longest song on the EP, it takes up almost half of its entire runtime, immediately putting it at odds with the previous two heavy-handed dance-centric tracks. “Big Time Freq” feels like it was added to remind us that this is a soundtrack to something bigger. That is to say, it’s kind of lackluster on its own. 

The song is primarily the same riff just modulated differently over the course of five minutes with a few breakdowns in between. The composition is evidently less complex than both “Dance in the Fire” and “Black Glass” which, for me, made it less interesting to listen to in comparison. Perhaps part of what makes this simplicity not work is just how short the entire body of work is. “Big Time Freq” has the potential to function as an interlude or overture to a larger project, but when it takes up the majority of an already very short EP, it feels bloated and—something I never thought I would say about a Machine Girl song—boring. The song itself felt like methed-out Mario Party menu music, which makes it almost hit its mark, but ultimately it’s still something for the background. I’m not saying “Big Time Freq” is objectively bad, I just think it’s a poor fit for this project. 

The FREQ comic is still in its Kickstarter phase, with only about a third of its goal met at the time of writing this review, however, other rewards include vinyls from long time electronic music legends Eddie Fowlkes and Ken Ishii. So presumably we can expect this catalog to grow along with the graphic novel. So, with that all in mind, SUPER FREQ EP was likely released prematurely as a hype machine to steer people toward supporting and getting excited for FREQ:A PR move straight out of the Minions: Rise of Gru playbook. 

When it comes to the EP itself, however, what holds SUPER FREQ EP back is that there’s not enough of it. Even though Machine Girl’s distinctive voice is still felt, the same metallic skull-melting sound they’ve established for themselves drops off completely on the last track. The best way I can describe the experience of listening to the SUPER FREQ EP is like listening to newer, harsher MG like The Ugly Art and then immediately following it up with Wolfgirl. The same core elements are there, but are expressed on such different scales it’s somewhat jarring and lacks cohesion. Ultimately, this is a solid project, and I hope that we’re getting a decadent taste of what the duo has in store for their next full length studio album. Which we are getting…right guys?—Becca Ortmann

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