Album Review: Future User, “Steroids Or Heroin”
Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: February 24th, 2015, via Middle Ring Partnership
If you listen to Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave (if not, you should stop reading now and immerse yourself in their music), then you have likely followed one of the two (or both) on some form of social media. If this is the case, then much like everyone else following them, you have been confused by their recent posts of a masked man shooting up steroids (or heroin) and another of a man lighting himself on fire. This was the worlds introduction to Future User, a band who chose anonymity to build a fan base, rather than rely on their already celebrity status. Lead by RAGTM and Audioslave bassist, Tim Commerford, with Jordan Tarlow of the Fuzztones on guitar and the keys, session drummer Jon Knox, and legendary producer, Brendan O’Brien on guitar. This was all revealed in late January, but the band has been sharing new music since September of 2014, with “Clockwork” and “Supernatural”, followed by “Medication Nation” in October, and “Mountain Lion” in January.
Seeing as the hype surrounding this album revolved around people completing life threatening, adrenaline pumping stunts, it seems only fitting that right from the get go, “Clockwork” pulls the listener in for a wild ride. The fusion of the bass groove along with the electronic percussion tracks gives a feeling of a Hollywood chase scene, yet when it takes it down a notch by introducing smoother vocals, as opposed to the aggressive spoken word during the chorus, an acoustic guitar, and an effects filter making the music feel distant, it doesn’t lose its momentum. “Clockwork” reaches a peaceful resolution when the two juxtaposing sections are fused together during the final chorus. “Mountain Lion” continues the pattern of fast paced grooves, instrumentals mixed with electronic elements. This song also features a voicemail message from legendary cyclist, Lance Armstrong, who happens to race with Commerford on a regular basis, often leaving overly competitive messages like the one heard here, which is just very cool. I’d certainly go for a bike ride with these two!
The clash of moods, going from something extremely energetic, to what seems like a slower, trance-like flow is done very well all throughout the album. This is very hard to successfully achieve as often it results in something cheesy, but Future User manages to do it in nearly every song on the album. Unfortunately, there are a few lesser moments throughout Steroid Or Heroin. Firstly, I wasn’t crazy about the vocal lines. The singing itself was good, I enjoyed the contrast between the smooth, mellow vocals to the rap/spoken word parts, both of which were effectively able to carry their political messages through their simply, but direct lyrics. What bothered me was how the lines were set up: many ended abruptly and most lacked flow from one to the other, creating a feeling is disjoint between the lyrics of different lines.
Instrumentally, however, Future User is very tight, perfectly cohesive. Another disappointment for me may fall more into my own biases but I am not one for remixes. The last three songs are all remixed versions of different songs on the album, including: “Clockwork” remixed by ECT!ECT!, “Mountain Lion” remixed by AWOLNATION, and “Medication Nation” remixed by Photek. All of these remixed versions take the originals and strip them of all the things which made them great; the instrumental is nearly all electronic, and the changes of pace are completely eliminated. Rather these have been mixed to dance, replacing what was once unique, with cliché pop elements. I somehow don’t see Tim Commerford and Brendan O’Brien getting down in the club. Personally I would skip the last three songs. If you do this, then Steroids Or Heroin ends with its edgiest track, “Voodoo Juju”. This is as close to Rage Against The Machine as it gets for this album. The opening synth line quickly melts away to a heavy bass and drum groove, and while it may not feature a signature Tom Morello riff, it does perfectly combine an alternative rock vibe along with a modern dance pop element which somehow doesn’t feel out of place. As for my favorite song on the album, it is a tossup between “Voodoo Juju” and “Supernatural”, one of the few songs which comfortably sits at a slower tempo. It is easily the most politically fueled songs, raging against the current lack of privacy in our lives, where big brother always seems be watching you. Musically the song takes a lot from industrial rock of the late 1980’s/early 90’s without sounding dated.
Overall, Steroids Or Heroin is one of the most unique newer act I’ve heard in a long time. Yes Future User is a super-group, with each member coming from a different band, but none of those projects were stylistically close to this album. It is hard to classify though, hence why Commerford created the term “progtronic”. Off the top of my head I cannot think of another fusion of instruments and electronic elements in such a way where they blend together so naturally. Nine Inch Nails comes to mind, but stylistically the two are very different blends of man and machine: NIN is darker, and more sophisticated, whereas Future User feels like jumping out of a plane, blindfolded, and waiting for the last possible second to pull the chute. It gets you pumped up with its highly contagious flow of energy. Despite its flaws, Steroids Or Heroin is still worth listening to. What may be too electronically induced for some, I find this record as an innovative step forward for pop music, and an interesting twist to alternative rock. I would like to hear other people’s approaches to the progtronic genre, and let Future User continue to develop this sound, as long as it doesn’t turn into more dance tunes as heard in the three remixes. Without a doubt Steroids Or Heroin is a highly experimental, hit and miss record, and although the risks taken by Future User don’t always land on their feet, when it does, it borders on innovative genius.
2: Mountain Lion
5: Medication Nation
6: Fool’s Paradise
7: Voodoo Juju
8: Clockwork (ETC!ETC! Remix)
9: Mountain Lion (AWOLNATION Remix)
10: Medication Nation (Photek Remix)