Taking a break from EBM and traditional pop song structures, Apoptygma Berzerk brings listeners on a dramatic '80s sci-fi-inspired trip with the instrumental Exit Popularity Contest. Both a compilation and a concept album, Exit combines a trio of EPs -- 2014's Stop Feeding the Beast, 2015's Videodrone, and 2016's Xenogenesis -- into a loosely autobiographical journey that finds its Spaceman-mask-wearing creator departing the pop world to explore new landscapes, both sonic and otherwise. In terms of APOP's own catalog, hints of Harmonizer and 7 appear throughout the narrative, but other than that, Exit is a patient and reflective experience unlike the viscerally physical music for which APOP founder Stephan Groth is mostly known. In fact, the only time fans will hear his voice is on the welcome extended bonus version of "U.T.E.O.T.W." ("Until the End of the World"). Both nostalgic in its roots and futuristic in its vision, there are plenty of allusions to the past, as Groth pays respects to inspirations like Jean-Michel Jarre, Arne Nordheim, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and Kraftwerk (The Man-Machine looms large here). There are also tastes of Giorgio Moroder, John Carpenter, S U R V I V E, and the scores Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross craft for David Fincher. Highlights include the shimmering astral journey "The Genesis 6 Experiment" -- which sounds like Carpenter covering Mark Snow's X-Files theme -- and the dramatic "For Now We See Through a Glass, Darkly," which rewards the listener's patience with a beautiful uplift at the end. Serena-Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen also appears as co-writer on "Rhein Klang," a lovely post-punk gem that closes out the album proper. Breaking down the track listing in terms of EPs, the songs from Xenogenesis take the crown for accessibility, while Videodrone's inclusions injects ample menace, and Stop Feeding the Beast hypnotizes. Together, they find balance, providing an instrumental adventure through an imaginary world. Exit Popularity Contest is a rewarding deep-catalog outlier for the APOP faithful and casual listeners who are fans of '80s synth scores and a beating Krautrock heart.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung