Straight Panic – CYCLE LP Breathing Problems Productions 2018
As a musical style power electronics music is routinely used as a platform to explore a range of transgressive subject matter or as a vehicle for personal obsessions, but on less frequent occasions for specifically politicized agendas and direct societal critiques. In this context Straight Panic is the solo project of Thomas Boettner, and by name alone should provide an immediate indication of thematic intent, but if not, the self-described ‘queer power electronics’ leaves no room for any confusion. So, although other post-industrial projects such as Death in June, Coil, Richard Ramirez/Black Leather Jesus and Hirsute Pursuit have included a gay perspective, in the case of Straight Panic Thomas has drawn upon his own observations and experiences and contextualized them into a direct criticism of religious and societal conservatism.
On the release front, Straight Panic has issued a substantial volume of material since 2014 (in excess of 30 releases and counting) which has functioned to garner increasing interest in the project. Yet from my own perspective I had not previously checked out the project before due to the ‘where do I start?’ factor. So, given that CYCLE is the first album I have become acquainted with, perhaps tellingly of its intended status and standing within the project’s discography it is the first release to be issued on vinyl. Also, on the thematic front CYCLE differs slightly as it is based on Dennis Cooper’s George Miles Cycle, which was a series of five semi-autobiographical novels spanning 1989-2000.
Noting that CYCLE features a mere four tracks spanning 32 minutes, it is a short and to the point album, where the flow of the album is book-ended by two 10-minute tracks with two six minutes tracks sitting in the middle. Teenage Wasteland kicks things off where frantic static and noise shards slashes across an underpinning maudlin organ synth drone, while the rabidly strained vocals bleed and coagulate with the harsher sonic elements. 1988 follows with a similar template of the merging the melodious and the harsh, where the looped melody is all but buried by tracks end. Third track Haunted House plays out as a more direct, harsh and choppy noise workout, but remains mid-paced in flow while an underpinning bass throb retains an industrial edge, before momentarily exploding late track with a frenetic vocal barrage. The final of four tracks Black merges with black, black merges with black is the standout piece which charts a knifes edge of bulldozing distortion and moody synths, which cyclically elevates over its extensive run-time. In the concluding moments the synths fall away leaving a monumental industrial-noise rumble, as if to represent the final death throes of the album.
Stylistically, CYCLE works best with its merging of cascading distortion with minor keyed synths, and particularly on the first and last pieces, where this dual sonic focus of distortion and dour melody could be compared to modern era Prurient. Likewise, by briefly dipping into the extensive back catalogue to get a better appreciation of context, it is clear that CYCLE is by far the most composed and refined release from Straight Panic to date. However, with the large volume of releases which have been issued in relatively quick succession, there is the potential for CYCLE to be overlooked, which would be a clear mistake given how strong and sonically honed this is. Presentation wise the black and white collage of the cover, as well as the explicit art and text within the separate 16 page ‘zine specifically reflects the Dennis Cooper’s source inspiration and fits perfectly with overall ‘angst malaise’ infused mood. A release worthy of investigation.