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Album Review

The third decade of VNV Nation's existence begins with an homage to the past, the static spill and distorted fanfare opening "On-Air" sounding like something from a hitherto lost field recording from the 1930s, an effect that crops up again later on the album with the brief "Goodbye 20th Century." It's typical of the partnership of Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson that an act that relentlessly identifies with a greater future also considers the weight of the past as both guide and inspiration; with that in mind, Automatic is both a product of the band's remarkable run over the past years and an attempt to reconfigure it going forward. Harris' ear for instant, surging anthems and his focus on themes of individual persistence in the face of despair (or worse) remains central, and as such, Automatic is "just" another VNV Nation album like Futureperfect or Judgement at first blush. But as with those albums, it's the subtle sonic or lyrical changes from release to release that mark each one. So if 2009's Of Faith, Power and Glory was in many ways an outward-looking release, an entirely self-conscious running toward the future at the vanguard of a movement, Automatic often turns inward and toward the past at many points; the band's now trademark fusion of electronic styles drives the energy, while Harris' ever passionate, rough-edged (but never darkly gruff) voice addresses issues such as "Resolution" and "Gratitude," to quote two song titles. The rigorous surge of those songs and others remains the beautiful key turning Automatic; as in VNV Nation's 21st century work as a whole, trance promises liberation and release, and electronic body music's crushing rigidity create a constant, wonderful tension. At the album's harshest, on "Control," the basslines could come right out of D.A.F.'s work, though one break tips an implicit hat toward the more recent impact of dubstep. At its most serene and soaring — in "Resolution" and especially in the sparkling slow build of "Nova," the album's one full ballad and one of the band's best songs in that vein — beat and texture combine to lift everything higher rather than bludgeon it. An early theme is set with "Space and Time," the album's first song with lyrics, addressing a feeling of being lost in said situation, a kind of beautiful confusion that benefits from one of the band's best arrangements. Perhaps not for nothing is the album concluded with a similarly ambivalent song, "Radio," where Harris begins "Words will never say enough/They're just born of hope that someone will even listen." But playing off the themes of songs like Joy Division's "Transmission" or even — in an implicitly brighter fashion — Kraftwerk's "Radio-Activity," "Radio'"s relentless Morse code-like hook turns into a final anthem for now, the kind of forward-no-matter-what feeling that VNV Nation celebrate without either irony or a stultifying cheesiness. A rare trick in music, and life.

Customer Reviews

Fab. VNV triumph again.

Do not ignore this album :) More juicy analogue than you can shake a stick at, coupled with the words of Ronan which never fail to touch a nerve. You'll love it.

The more you listen the more you'll love it.

Each tune is an anthem in it's own right and for different reasons. If you like Futureperfect you will love this album. Would write more but life is too short and i am currently listening to the track "Radio" at high volume and i am about to start dancing and jumping around the room. BUY THIS ALBUM! Thanks VNV, loving your work.

A great improvement

Personally I really did not like VNV's previous album "Of Faith, Power and Glory" and thought it was rather lazily put together and lacked imagination on most but 1 or 2 tracks. This was a let down from the 2 albums before Judgement and Matter and Form which were master pieces and I loved both.

This new work is truly excellent and I love the new track Control which I just can’t stop playing. Yet to hear it in a club but I bet it will be amazing. For any VNV fan or someone new to their work this is a must buy and recommended.


Formed: 1990 in London, England

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The electronic project VNV ("Victory Not Vengeance") Nation was conceived in London in 1990 by Ronan Harris, debuting in May of that year with the 12" "Body Pulse." "Strength of Youth" followed a few months later, and at the end of the year Harris relocated to Toronto, where VNV Nation opened for Nitzer Ebb on their Canadian tour. After moving back to Europe, Harris released only a handful of compilation tracks in the years to follow before signing with the German label Discordia in 1995 to issue...
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Automatic, VNV Nation
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Customer Ratings