Com Truise’s new mini-LP Persuasion System, out today on Ghostly International, represents a whole new phase in musician and designer Seth Haley’s long-time project. Although the new music is inherently Com Truise — there’s absolutely no mistaking that — one thing that hits you pretty quickly is how much more terrestrial and varied it is.
Beginning in 2010 with Cyanide Sisters, continuing on Galactic Melt (2011), In Decay (2012), Wave 1 (2014), Silicon Tare (2016) and concluding on 2017’s Iteration through mostly instrumental music, Haley told the tale of the synthetic astronaut Com Truise who traveled the galaxy, fell in love, ended up in chains, and ultimately escaped oppression. To match that story, the music had an intergalactic momentum that warped the synths, stuttered the rhythms, and all around screwed up the conventions of 1980s nostalgia and sci-fi like a VHS tape giving into the dirty, failing heads of a VCR. All of this with catchy melodies that enraptured fans across the world who turned out for his frequent tours. It was a story and career arc of pure triumph.
With that story behind him, the Man Who Made the Rain Stop has new things in mind for his Com Truise project. Apparently, the new album began as an experiment in which Haley switched digital audio workstations and revamped his sound palette, opening the door to more freely create without the expectations attached to the old ways, according to press materials for Persuasion System. The result is ostensibly more earth-focused and more centered on the present, eschewing some of the more space-oriented sentiments tied to a long journey since finished.
When you listen to Persuasion System, you can hear that intention. The album isn’t such a departure that mentioning a “Com Truise” sound will require era-specific clarification from here on out, but there is a marked change in tone and, in some cases, arrangements and instrument choices. The songs are more grounded and tempered with segments that have the beauty of something from the Lost in Translation soundtrack snuggled up next to the complex rhythms and ablutionary synths of classic Com Truise. Things have slowed down a bit, as Haley’s main character withdraws from being in the stars and takes a moment for smaller-scale reflection.
The Songs of Persuasion System: A New Kind of Com Truise
The album opens with the quick-snap delays of a sweet-sounding synth melody on “Wordline,” setting a more contemplative tone off the bat. A robotic female voice utters poetry that seems to suggest some kind of dually lived experience in both the present and the future (a reality familiar to anyone with anxiety).
The title cut follows, soft and detached before stepping aside to allow in a mid-tempo, driving drum beat and a rubbery synth bass line. Atop the rhythm section the soft, ambient synths persist chorus-like in a fit of the sacred — equal parts entrancing and stimulating.
“Gaussian” is an atmospheric blur of synthesis-driven beauty in the vein of “Shibuya,” the cut by Brian Reitzell & Roger J. Manning Jr. from the aforementioned soundtrack to Lost in Translation. There’s a delicate sense of resolution to it — a lovely, intimate moment coated in warm colors. Serenity abounds; until it doesn’t anymore.
Coming next is “Ultrafiche of You,” representing the apex of the album’s apparent intent. It’s the Com Truise we recognize — syncopated and melodic, with sounds dissolving and twisting about as we’ve come to expect over the course of nearly a decade. However, things are different this time. The somber beauty reigns supreme, adventures smaller and more personal, the world a room or house or city block. In the sense of Haley’s narrative for Com Truise, it’s a track laden with romance and the work required on it after the adrenaline surge of chain-breaking on another planet. The romantic mood that arises is intentional, Haley says in press materials: “It’s a love song, and I don’t write many of those.”
“Kontext” is “VHS Sex” run through an ominous array of trauma. It opens with a haunting piano part straight out of a horror score before giving way to an eruption of Com Truisery reminiscent of Haley’s earlier forays. The sense of calm and ease has drowned in a bath of turpentine. Human nature puts a time limit on your time with your good memories, allowing you to easily lose your grasp on them as you fall into the rotten fruit of a dream deferred.
One of the leading singles off the album, “Existence Schematic,” yanks the listener out of the temporary abyss in a feat of triumphant action, a strong, loving embrace emerging from the upbeat drums and jovial synth eruptions. Digging within yourself for answers — for healing, really — is hard and sometimes you risk getting lost in the mire. It’s always nice to know there’s someone there to help you get out.
“Laconism,” the next in line, is a fitting song title for an artist with perhaps only one song with a bona fide vocal top line — “Declination” from Wave 1, which featured Joel Ford. What does it mean, though? Can it be that when trying to make sense of yourself after a long journey you come up short on how to describe things? Or perhaps words don’t matter after a certain point? The detached and dissonant specters that hover menacingly all over the upbeat track reinforce the idea of a dichotomous lifestyle — inside is a firestorm and outside is feigned serenity. Maybe there are few words because the brain is at war with itself, living in the past and present, or present and future, or probably past and future without much attention paid to the here-and-now?
The final run, consisting of “Privilege Escalation” and “Departure,” is an excellent way to close this compelling record.
The former song is a meditative number with disaffected crystalline bells chiming atop a tight, relatively straightforward drum beat and a wax-and-wane of synths that pulsate with great determination. The upbeat nature of the song can’t hide the ominous tolling of the bells — they ring for all of us earthly beings as we face a reckoning at the hands of self-imposed destruction. (Would have been a shame for the astronaut Com Truise and his love to escape oppression on distant plant Wave 1 only to find a different doom at home.)
The closing track returns to the sacredness of “Gaussian” — albeit much more solemn this time. The cut acts as a ruminative come-down following the unsettling denouement of “Privilege.”
The tidal waves of the lived life can ebb and flow in response to the gravitational pull of the emotional experience. Haley recognizes this and has figured out how to portray it in a deeply nuanced way through his machines. What a feat. I look forward to witnessing him further develop this new phase of Com Truise.