“Baby look at you, setting your hook in my mouth – Reel me in, rip it out.”
Los Angeles duo Spike Hellis, comprised of Cortland Gibson and Elaine Chang, is a phenomenal old-school style EBM act that has just released their excellent self-titled full-length album via their own imprint Over-Pop.
Interestingly enough, Spike Hellis did not initially set out to create an album, yet the resulting record was a pure product of pandemic lockdown: “the libraries were filling up, there were no patterns left to chain on the sequencers or any space to save new patches to the synths—and there are many synths.”
With no live show bookings, the band decided to go on hiatus, and relocated their rehearsal space to the San Gabriel Valley. With no rush to resurface, and plenty of time to revise and polish, they found their songwriting evolving into something more intentional.
The prime theme of the album, created with the idea to jolt the listener, is about taking challenging times of despair, and coming through the other end with hope and optimism.
The album is one of chaotic, disjointed energy peppered with Chang’s cries of despair and need to regain footing, particularly with the opener, “Control (Rage)”, “a layered, firm-handshake body-music track designed to hijack the amygdala.” While presented as a song of despair, optimism and determination shine through in the final line as the question is taken back and turned into a statement, “Watch me regain control.”
“Flight” is more techno-tinged, melding spoken word with rubber band funk beat, as lyrical instructions for escaping a dream are barked out at various frequencies.
“Slices” moves into the territory of that liminal space shared by industrial, techno and early hip-hop, a political funk jam worthy of the dance floor as well as the protest march., the funky first single leads into its supplementary counterpart, “Stitches: features spoken samples of William S. Burroughs over eerie Emulator arpeggios, bringing to mind Allen Ginsburg’s cameo in Cornershop’s classic, “When The Light Appears”.
“Teardrops (Kisses)”, a deceptively light-hearted on a sonic level, brings to the surface themes of social punishment and isolation to reveal conflict at its core. Chang and Gibson trade off cries of shame and humiliation in the midst of distorted synths swirling in polyrhythms. It brings to mind Carl Stephenson’s psychedelic trip-hop project Forest For The Trees, if set in an episode of Miami Vice. “Help” is a straightforward freestyle number with a pinch of synth-pop emulating Cabaret Voltaire.
“Cause of Death” takes Spike Hellis from the dance floor to the speedway; a nod to taking risks and enduring hardships in favor of triumph in the long run.
The minimalist closing track “Mouth winds its way through a four-verse build as Chang’s pitch-shifted voice softly narrates a catch-and-release scenario in which baiting fish is used as an allegory for manipulation.
Listen to the Spike Hellis’ self-titled debut below and find it digitally here:
Since finishing the album, Spike Hellis has gotten back on the road, completing their first US tour in fall 2021, followed by a west coast tour in early 2022. They’ve performed in good company with Choir Boy, Fearing, Soft Kill, Plack Blague, Riki, Nuovo Testamento, Pixel Grip, Twin Tribes and Body of Light.
This spring, they will be serving as a supporting act alongside Kontravoid on ADULT.’s 2022 North American tour.
More info on Spike Hellis here.
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