Deciding how to approach following up a debut that struck on an identifiable and singular sonic character is an interesting challenge for the already rocky path to a second album, since it confirms that the act have hit on a winning formula, but any path forward has a looming fear of diminishing returns. Of the options available, three 21st century examples stand out. 1) Shift the theme of the tracks into another tone while still being unmistakable in style (see: Crystal Castles’ jump from hi-gloss chiptune to goth), 2) Double down on an idiosyncratic facet of the sound, seemingly to see how far they can go (see: The xx’s ‘Coexist’, where empty space became less a technique than a song’s reason for being), or 3) Simply elect to not release another record at all (once upon a time, Death From Above 1979 would have been my example for this).
For their second album 25 25, Factory Floor have gone for option number 2. Starting life as a post-punk outfit, the band’s live performances grew steadily more intense, favouring repetition and brute force. By the time their debut album was released, the Factory Floor sound was a tantalising combination of Berghain-like roiling techno, Dieter Moebius-style live-band psych, and tight propulsive rhythms befitting their signing by DFA. 25 25 is an album of bare essentials and contempt for extraneous fluff. Now working as a duo after the departure of Dominic Butler, the band studiously avoids breakdowns and dynamics in favour of ascension through grid-paper repetition.
If that doesn’t sound very exciting as a listen, you’d be half right. Factory Floor is a formidable live act for this very reason, transforming into a captivating behemoth with industrial flourishes. I have no doubt the tracks on 25 25 will be solid additions to their setlist, but the record can’t help but feel like a blueprint for live performance that feels relatively neutered and flat. ‘Meet Me At The End’ and ‘Relay’ set the pace that’s stuck to fairly consistently over the hour-long album, based around one squelchy modular riff and the occasional intervention of voice. Where before Nik Void’s vocals were enigmatic through the use of phrases where meaning was fluid, here they are reduced to coos and oohs, often mangled and distorted beyond recognition.
If one track from this album were to make a cosy life outside of the stage, ‘Ya’ would make the cut. It’s essentially a classically structured house track, complete with bright acid-like riffage and a vocal line (possibly sampled from label mates LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Yeah’) that takes the loving affirmative nature of dance music into the literal. It’s a track that’ll work on a treadmill, a late night headphone bliss-out, and peak-time of a DJ set.
25 25 is worth a listen, and it’s fun to imagine just how much throttle will be added to these tracks once brought to life in front of an audience. Someday in the future Factory Floor is going to release one hell of a live album. That said, the album doesn’t quite get past the stage of being an advertisement for a live show. However effective it is in that role, it doesn’t lend itself well to re-listens.