Group A’s Throbbing Gristle-influenced industrial synth-noise as always grown hand-in-hand with their arresting, conceptual live performances, making albums difficult artefacts to assess. From their noisy debut A in 2013 to the same year’s follow-up Initiation, there was a clear progression though, and their new third album, 70 + a = is a further step forward.
Group A’s music always operated in the realm of minimalism, but they now wield the same limited range of tools with greater assurance and control, not to mention greater musicality. Sayaka’s violin, which used to be limited to harsh, scraping atmospherics now on tracks like We Are Surveyors (Ver.2) flirts with tone and melody – that’s not to say that her skill has grown (it was always very high) so much as that the rest of the music has advanced to the stage where it can support her.
That confidence also feeds into a newly assured approach to the minimalism and repetition that defines much of Group A’s sound, with the Yami -Saitei No Taisei- a simple, sparse opening track that resists the temptation to fill out the sound with noise – and ends up all the more atmospheric for its lack of atmospherics. The eight-and-a-half-minute Kikaika kicks off with a similarly sparse approach, but demonstrates Group A’s growing accomplishment with deploying small shifts in the sonic layers to dynamic effect, its minimal synthpop bass gradually overwhelmed by a building cacophony of samples.
Dynamics and discord will only get you so far though, and on 70 + a = Group A also surprise by showing a nascent talent in more straightforward aspects of songwriting. Labyrinth may take the form of an abstract drone, but its superficially amorphous structure gradually reveals an Enoesque, Velvetsy ebb and flow that goes beyond soundscapery. Somewhere in its black mechanical heart Suffocated is an actual for real pop song – in the early ‘80s French minimal wave KaS Product sense at least.
While Group A undoubtedly remain in thrall to their impeccably cool influences, 70 + a = also shows a group continuing to push their own creative envelope. Over the relatively short period since their 2013 debut, they have grown from a wild, raucous live conceptual art experience into something far more musical, and they don’t appear to be slowing down.