Choose Life

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Glaswegian man about town Michael Kasparis was already busy running his Night School label and playing in various hardcore bands when he launched his cathartic solo electronic project Apostille circa 2011. Early recordings were intentionally abrasive and muddy, landing somewhere between John Maus' demented pop and the shattered electronics of the '80s minimal wave scene. On 2015's Powerless, the first proper Apostille full-length, vocals were obscured in generous clouds of reverb, burying Kasparis' scathingly antisocial lyrics but also dimming the power of his inventive melodies. Choose Life throws off the shackles of lo-fi production, and the results are an immediate move forward. Apostille's electropop influences were always vaguely implied on earlier releases, but the harshness of the recordings often took center stage. Seconds into album opener "Fly with the Dolphin," there are nods to the sleazy swagger of '80s acts like Yaz and Soft Cell as the song rides a detached yet funky bassline that Some Great Reward-era Depeche Mode would be proud of. Kasparis holds on to the grit and aggression of his early work but channels it into personal lyrics presented with vulnerable clarity. Standout track "Feel Bad" explores the aftermath of a relationship ending in a small scene, starting with the line "If there's something I know, it's that I'll see you again." Kasparis seems to be nakedly sifting through the fallout of a difficult period on most of Choose Life. He uneasily watches a recent ex starting over with a new love on "Hanging On," one of the best songs on the record. The way desperation dances with the song's lilting, carefree groove evokes the same beautifully drained feeling as New Order's masterstroke Power, Corruption & Lies. The bounding pulse of "Thirteen Minutes" snaps with calculated, jagged shifts between parts, moving quickly from cold electro verses to explosive, breathless choruses. The album-closing title track offers another shift, introducing an easily recognizable jungle/drum'n'bass rhythm as the song's backbone after an album of robotic synth pop and grid-like rhythms. Like much of the record, this feels intentionally mapped, the final moment of relief after a catalog of difficult feelings. As the song ends in a swell of distorted bass, there's a real sense of having connected with Kasparis' experiences; heartbreaking, hopeful, angry, and mundane. Choose Life generally feels like a tug of war between Kasparis' damaged feelings and his smart, sharp-edged compositions. It's a brave move to take these sometimes difficult sentiments out of the shadows, and the magnified tension between lyrical unrest and crystalline pop makes the record excellent.

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