Human Error is the new album from CHARMS – a towering inferno of 10 bristling-hot songs deep in the pitch-black vein of darkest rock. Full of torn, jagged textures, seering drones, and glorious, glorious noise – this is a guided tour of hell. Right off the bat, there’s a lot of lovely sonic torture going on – beginning with “C.O.D.,” which erupts from a flatlining guitar thrum into a propulsive, crushed drum lead-in. This in turn collides with the main thrust of the song – a thrashing, primal scream in the darkness, before dropping lower into a verse. The voice – indie-rock incantations at the alter of horror. It builds in desperation and terror as the song closes in on the end, the band lifting up this powerful voodoo to its double hit conclusion.
CHARMS’ new record represents a dramatic evolution from what they were up to a few years ago. Human Error is dark, heavy – brimming with winding progressive passages, supernatural textures, earnestly hair-raising moments, and freaky dissonance. Oh, and energy – copious amounts of dark energy. It doesn’t just scorch; it shimmers. In a way this violent mutation reminds me of The Flaming Lips’ Embryonic – with its in-your-face, crunched, and decidedly more ferocious tack. Human Error, on the other hand, isn’t playing cute in the shadows; this is not a picnic in the graveyard. This is The Rite of Spring for the 21st century.
“Sirens” is an excellent example of this – leading off with a surf-zombie tumultuousness. The rising synth appears out from under the vocals, seemingly from the ether. The song empties into a new chasm, an arch of voices in harmony rising just above the yawning mouth of oblivion. We land back on our feet for precious moments, until “We don’t care if it’s the same siren” dumps us into a deranged waltz. This isn’t at all meandering – there’s a subversive logic underpinning it all, like the grand scheme of some omnipresent villain. Rather, it’s incredibly mesmerizing. Even if the words are lost on you, you won’t be able to deny the band’s ability to tell a story through arrangement and performance alone.
The bleed from “Sirens” into “Kill Data” drives this continuous – perhaps even “conceptual” – aspect of the album. “Kill Data” breathes new life into the pacing of the record, with greater attention to high-contrast dynamics, dunking down into a swinging, plinky synth pattern that belies the sprawling hellscape that lies ahead. Even there, in the darkness, there is still so much “color” and “vibe” to explore. While this album may be bent on conjuring demons, it doesn’t detract from the band’s ability to weave illustrious frameworks for their songs – beautiful megastructures that are then set alight like a funeral pyre for the world.
“Coco Flash” rises from the grave in a slow pitch-bend upward, revealing itself in bursts as a synthesizer and not, in actual fact, the call of Cthulhu. The reason why this warlock rock hasn’t lost its steam 4 songs deep into the album is because it continues to surprise in little moments along the way. Oftentimes I felt lost in the mazes the band laid out, but always morbidly fascinated with where I was at any given time, especially “Coco Flash”s squelchy, gloomy clearing from 2 minute 15 second until 3 minutes 48. The variety present on this record is immense, but rather than depicting a band not sure of where to go, it feels like they know precisely where to go – and more importantly, when to go there. The start/stop chant pulls to a power-drained halt, the perfect segue to “Gold Statue.”
Throughout the album, the drums have this rolling momentum, trudging through rigid marches into iron-fisted thrashes like a machine that knows someone is trying to drown it. It pulls us into the lair of “Gold Statue” with might, set against a blank canvas eventually imbued by a Dead Rider-like push-and-pull in the rhythm between each instrument as they begin to stack, smeared across guitar work slightly reminiscent of Mirrors-era BATTLES. However, the band also knows when to simplify – when to hold back and drop the feeling down. It is, from one end to the next, an overwhelming record. And then moments like 1 minute 40 seconds to 3 minutes 10 – this lovely clarity presents itself in a woeful, descending synth line – a shady respite from the burning sky. This too shall pass.
“Only Is Gone” is like the nightmare chase scene of the album, with it’s urgent energy-builds and insistent beat – whereas “Dream Fever” is a massacre in a small, closed room; running into walls and getting blood everywhere. “Ana Ko” doesn’t feel like we’re getting any closer to the devil at the heart of this thing, but it is easy to bob your head along to than most of the other tracks. In that way, it’s a welcome break from what is fast-becoming routine evil – it’s windiness is circular, pointing us back to familiar moments within the song in a way that is, in this context, more approachable. The synth collapse at the end is superb. “Separator” has considerably more punk in its blood, dragging angels into the mosh pit. Throughout the record, the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt uses of synthesizers really drive home the occult feeling of the record – they are incredibly tasteful, challenging, unnatural, and perfectly situated in the mix at any given time.
“Telesnow” closes Human Error in a somewhat predictable way – calmer, cooler, more atmospheric and less driven outright. Black sludge leaking through the walls; the howling of wind down an empty, filthy corridor; the thunderous clanging of an approaching abomination. Surely, we are at the center of the pentagram now. The guitars have a hollow heaviness, both weighing them down and sending them crashing against the wall. Cut-off filters drag the synth in and out like a red tide. The voice banishes the stars. The hum of untethered guitar travels, lonely, across the wilderness. It climbs steadily toward the peak, just in time to watch the sun die.
Human Error is a Lemarchand’s box of an album. Gorgeous, intricate, mysterious, enthralling, and – at its core – deeply disturbing, perhaps even horrifying. And in that way, quite enjoyable. Whether that combination gives you the warm-and-fuzzies or shivers, the masterfulness with which this record was written, performed, and produced is incontrovertible. It is a singular listening experience, rooted in a dark dimension with its own set of cruel elements. It delivers emotion, intelligence, and terror with some hyper-competent rock ’n’ roll. Short of being produced by Satan, this album could not have been a better ride into sweet, sweet damnation. Fantastic.