X Harlow - Feurwerk
"As the political and cultural landscape of the US continues to polarize to alarming levels, the looming questions of civil violence cloud our time. In a nation so traumatized with the scars of endless war, economic insecurity and growing rates of incarceration, a confrontation with its own internal conditions is a real possibility. One must ask themselves, in the face of this very real prospect, just how they might respond.
So follows the concept of Feuerwerk — the debut album by New York based artist X Harlow (Justin Schmidt). The album reflects on the extreme factionalism and engrained violence that are increasingly defining America’s cultural landscape. There are moments of punishing directness, like second track "Open Wounds," where explosive drum work drives moments of breakdown and decay, while tracks like "Fly Bubble" see Schmidt’s lyrics express longing under the duress of social paranoia over harmonically lush arrangements. Elsewhere, “Greem in the Ocean” offers quietude and reflection, a moment of ambient sound design that sets up the cathartic rush of the penultimate track, “Be Faithful,” which underscores the human cost of civil violence and our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. Other tracks such as “Shiloh” and “Gun Worship” criticize the stylization of war and conflict, and how societal tensions seem to be moving full force into real violence.
One third of New York’s confrontational synth-punk act BLU ANXXIETY, Schmidt has been a cornerstone of New York’s recent redrawing of the lines between punk and electronic music, often sharing bills with other local projects Pharmakon, L.O.T.I.O.N. and Deli Girls. X Harlow sees them expanding on that framework, and working across a range of styles, from blistering, dancefloor-oriented constructions to sparse, moody introspections all united by Schmidt’s meticulous sense of songcraft. One can hear the dark atmospherics of late Smashing Pumpkins, interpolations of dark wave and EBM, and early 90s industrial. Compositions burst with overdriven synths and relentless drum loops, all serving as a bed for Schmidt’s plaintive vocals that soar with aching harmonies.
Feuerwerk offers few easy conclusions, instead calling on the listener to consider their own responsibility and agency in a pervasive cultural neurosis. It pulls at the thread of a world assured of its own safety, challenging human inclinations towards self-assurance and optimism, instead asking how one might respond to an inevitable societal fracture and collapse. On Ill Fare they sing: “Distrust across the continent, soil bleeds callousness, never felt such disinterest in the wellbeing of so many.”