In the beginning of December I saw Jared Louche perform a brief solo show, on top of a pub in London's Camden. Despite being backed only by a DAT and having an audience of a mere 30 people or so, the enigmatic former Chemlab front man did a performance that should make most bands envious. During the first song, the room was all dark, with Louche in prime showman mode swinging two lamps to the music, a new track that sounded like an odd but strangely catchy mixture of Autechre's harshness and the minimalistic vein of very early Front 242.
The song was called "Heliophobic" and also opens the new H3llb3nt album "Hardcore Vanilla" (except for a brief intro), and it sounds just as good on record. With Bryan Black of Haloblack and Eric Powell of 16 Volt as main members, H3llb3nt manage to fuse the sound of contemporary electronic music with some much needed pop sensibility, and the raw edge of the best industrial music. It's an album filled with electronic dub, junkyard funk and digital noise, but its rough edges are perfectly contrasted by powerful song structures.
"Hardcore Vanilla" features loads of brilliant programming - despite the minimalistic feel, there is a myriad of details. Chopped up trip hop loops, subtle samples and harsh rhythms fight for the attention. And although involving some ten different people, the album never feels sloppy or confused.
Jared Louche show up on a few of the songs. "Switching off" sounds like a vocal cousin to 2nd Gen's "And/or" single, with hammering beats and a drill penetrating the chorus. "Jet Boy Machine" on the other hand takes the worn out quiet verse/loud chorus formula to new heights, with Bryan Black whispering over an ace bass line, and Louche screaming the chorus over waves of noise.
Elsewhere, Raymond Watts moans and grunts his way through "Rubber Girls with Knives". But the biggest moment is without a doubt "Blo". Over a heavily erotic atmosphere, Anna Wildsmith of Sow whispers about "muscles of iron" in French. It's one of her best songs ever, and the perfect ending of an album that impressively manages to be both diverse and focused at the same time.