According to the artists, “civic banalities” is the theme on this Four Door debut, and it’s a topic they’re not taking lightly. Look at the song titles after all: ‘Meeting Rooms’ and ‘Claim’ both lock into ambivalent and hunched 4/4s with on-rails melodies and tempos that seem to poke fun at any kind of initiative. For the first half of this 12 inch, Four Door is slouched and mentally unapplied techno: it’s amusingly disengaged.
Four Door is Sydney’s Jonathan Hochman (Holy Balm) and Matthew Hopkins (NOTV, Half High), and it’s the culmination of a long term collaboration between the duo which yielded its first public release, It’s The Submarine, back in 2009. Whereas that release and a couple of ensuing cassette albums were typical of the Australian tape scene’s late ‘00s gravitation towards electronic music, Four Door sees the duo complete the transformation. There’s nothing designedly “rough” about this record: any semblance of lo-fi has been removed. In fact, Four Door’s central theme demands a fussy, neurotic kind of order. That’s exactly what you get.
With their pointed refusal to deviate and menacing singlemindedness, this EP’s opening tracks sound like music to control whole accountancy firms and call centre floors; functional ambiance designed to numb workers to the interminate processes of capital. These crisp but textually barren tracks prize precision, formality and working to the blueprint, even as they promise that shit will hit the fan if these principles aren’t adhered to. Listen to the end of ‘Meeting Rooms’ for example: the song appears to have gathered some courage towards its end but it ultimately just fizzes out, with Hopkins’ heavily affected “beeps” ringing like some hysterical alarm. “You can’t go there,” they seem to warn.
Four Door maintain fidelity to their theme both formally and through their vocals, which are drolly yet necessarily literal. The lyrics during ‘Claim’ sound like a list of tedious administrative tasks, and the music itself is even more neutral than ‘Meeting Rooms’. ‘Claim’ contains the embryo of a dance track, but its shorn of groove and lacks the requisite kick, resulting in dance that sounds composed on an austerity budget.
While this all sounds sickly – pleasureless even – Four Door doesn’t lack purely aesthetic charms, and these lay mainly in the music’s amusing positioning of corporate authority as some kind of inscrutable, Klamm-esque puzzle. Actually, Four Door’s central theme of “civic banality” feels like a direct nod to Kafka, particularly The Castle, where dedication to paperwork, bureaucracy and “best practice” far exceeds any material benefit. Here is a blandly neurotic world where processes, even while never completely understood, have us all on a firm leash and are accepted as indispensable.
Four Door feels like an analogue to James Ferraro’s 2011 LP Far Side Virtual, especially in the way that it shirks the “pleasure principle” central to dance music and attempts instead to capture a condition, or the culmination of various modern phenomenon. Four Door and Ferraro share an interest in the incidental but pervasive textures of modern life under capitalism, in the music’s implied acceptance that real pleasure and freedom is interstitial in our lives. And that’s where the comedy in Four Door is most apparent: in the fact that we know yet permit this. In the fact that we do it anyway. Isn’t that weird.
But all this collapses when you flip the 12 inch, because ‘Moods’ and ‘Luxury Tax’ are an emphatic departure from “functional”. They’re leery, nauseating and vaguely freeform, lacking reliably ordered 4/4s and familiar synth lines. ‘Moods’ is what you could loosely term an ambient piece: six minutes of airy and tangential sax chintz dogged by echoed vocal effects. Meanwhile, ‘Luxury Tax’ is almost whimsical: it’s locked to a subtle grid but is nothing like the glazed-eye automation of the A-side tracks.
It’s a neat response to the A-side, because these tracks are basically Four Door gone recreational. It’s still not freedom or pleasure though. Hopkins’ vocals – the celestial corporate figurehead from side-A – haunts the periphery of ‘Moods’ like a bedside mobile phone vibrating in your dreams. Still, the incursions are more violent in ‘Luxury Tax’, working in concert with the grindingly bright and major key melodies. Here the voice – the authority, the administrator, the chief, the executive, the team leader – works harder to insinuate itself because it must: it cries beyond the cubicle.
Or maybe it’s merely the voice of recreation: the processes and systems we actively submit to in the name of recuperation. Budgeting, itinerating, purchasing, consuming, preparing. Four Door renders life as a feedback loop of banality. Work or play, it’s all interconnected and it’s all very, very banal. Unless you turn it into art.