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Tighter and darker than some of Semiautomatic's previous work, the duo's fourth album, Wolfcentric, is perhaps its most compact and intent music yet, balancing harsh electro-punk with softer synth pop leanings. Even on the loudest songs such as the title track (which deals with a domesticated dog reverting back to wildness), there's a chilly reserve to the album that, coupled with the album's tinny sound, makes Wolfcentric the aural equivalent of freezer burn. The apocalyptic "Ice Not Fire" is the most obvious example, but the looped paranoia of "This Place Does Not Exist" and the spiky instrumental "Emergency Tunnel System" also send shivers down the back. But Semiautomatic has more textures and moods at its command than one might think. Wolfcentric's two dancehall-inspired collaborations with the Slits' Ari Up, "Execution" and the brazen "Stushpuss," stand out like neon orange against the rest of the album's starkly monochromatic songs. Starkest and most striking of all is "Marion Barry," an outstanding depiction of despair and ennui. Akiko Carver sounds especially compelling singing pointed lyrics like "I want to smoke drugs every day/You say you love me but you just love the sex/I think next election I'll vote Marion Barry for president." The song is so accomplished that the rest of Wolfcentric can't quite match its passion and precision, but then again, an album full of songs just like this could be suffocating. Wolfcentric's second half reveals yet more sides to the group's sound, including the relentless but nevertheless catchy "Gimme Yours," the creepy, tarot card-inspired post-punk of "Hanging Man," and the surprisingly lush ballad "Ride Through," which is equally inspired by synth pop and animated soundtracks. A compelling, often fascinating album, Wolfcentric may be too dark and prickly to embrace fully, but it's certainly admirable.

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