Amnesia Scanner's Ode to a Dying World

Amnesia Scanner's Ode to a Dying World

There is an almost cruel irony to the timing of Amnesia Scanner's latest album. Advertised as "a breakup album with the planet," the Finnish duo's sophomore record, Tearless, is decidedly not the dystopian apocalyptic fantasy so often promised to us by movies like Mad Max, The Hunger Games, Terminator or Waterworld. Instead, it's a sobered look at the reality we have been complicit in cultivating.

Previously an abstract threat, Global Warming has become a real force we have to grapple with daily; neo-fascist leaders and administrations are on the rise; the illusion of privacy was signed away in the terms and conditions; and wealth inequality has grown so extreme that we are now entertaining the idea of trillionaires. The world has been hurtling towards its own annihilation for quite some time now, the pandemic just made it palpable — and as a result, Tearless is an all the more timely record.

Existing as a relatively stark contrast to their abrasive, energetic debut, Another Life, Tearless leans towards the somber and elegiac. Here, Amnesia Scanner's caustic sonic palette, overwhelming drones and deconstructed rhythms feel less like a glimpse at futuristic club and more so a weary gaze out across the irradiated remains of a nuclear wasteland. The tone is bleak, but at least they're up front about it.

The album's opener, "AS Enter," sets the tone for Tearless with muted foghorns rolling in off the horizon and the duo's synthetic vocal avatar, Oracle, being grotesquely resurrected like a cybernetic Frankenstein's monster. There is even a little bit of gallows humor thrown in as the voice sardonically asks listeners to "please take your shoes off." From there, Amnesia Scanner tosses us straight into the buzzing hornet's nest that is the album's title track, "AS Tearless," with Peruvian artist Lalita playing demonic hype-gremlin to the anarchy and carnage.

With the world in flames, Tearless marches on like a funeral parade rolling through the lethargic laments of "AS Trouble" into unspooling mania of "AS Acá" and the paranoid melancholy of "AS Too Late." On "AS Going," Brazilian DJ and producer LYZZA's repeated mantra of "Hey, yah, keep it going" feels less like a message of perseverance and more like a sneering commentary of the gig economy's insatiable appetite for labor, demanding that you power through burnout and fatigue in order to make a living. By the time we get to "AS Labyrinth" we are broken down and despondent, on our last legs as cybernetic coughs and wheezes echo out across a desolate landscape.

And while it may seem like Tearless is all doom and gloom, buried underneath it all is the hope that things for better or worse can change. The album's closer "AS U Will Be Fine" perhaps best encapsulates this sentiment. Simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic, Amnesia Scanner acknowledges that we must keep moving forward regardless of the outlook, because at the end of the day it's all that we can do.

Following the release of their sophomore album, Tearless, PAPER caught with Amnesia Scanner to explore the record's ins and outs, talk about its reception and speculate about what the future of the music industry might look like.

Now that the album has been out for a hot second, what is the response you've been getting?

Ville Haimala: It's been such a strange time to release or promote anything. Of course, it's beyond our control in the sense that we postponed the release a couple of times and it's so hard to see how things resonate with the time. The thematics on a lot of the songs on the album deal with the emotions that are happening right now. You don't really know when you don't tour and you don't experience the music with an audience, so it's a very different experience for us.

Martti Kallaila: Yeah, because the live shows are really central to what we do, so with a record like this or anything that we release really, to not have that spacial element isn't ideal.

What were your intentions for this album's live experience?

Ville: We both quickly understood that our live show is not something that you can stream or do through an Instagram Live or Twitch. It's so physical. You have to be physically present with the songs or effects we use. In that sense, we've been trying to figure out if there is a way we could still have some sort of version of it or have the music somehow communicated through a live streaming form. We haven't found a full answer to that yet. In its full glory, and this applies to not only us, I would say every single live show should happen in a live environment. Through seeing so many other shows, especially in the beginning when the lockdown started, there were so many attempts to act like nothing happened. It wasn't super successful, at least in my opinion. It's still on the table if we are going to something like that or not.

Martti: In terms of our intentions, hopefully next year, [we'll] present a bigger, more amplified, exaggerated, badder, meaner version of what we've been doing so far. Who knows when that will happen, but eventually it will.

In comparison to Another Life, which was very much about saturation, disorientation and sensory overload, Tearless comes across as a little more direct of an expression. What were your intentions going into the second album?

Ville: When making the music it's almost like Tearless and Another Life seamlessly connected to each other. A lot of the songs on Tearless existed already in some sort of form during the later parts of Another Life's process. There's a lot of almost ballad-y stuff. It felt like with Another Life we got some sort of rage out. What was left was quite like a void of, "Okay the world did change, but it didn't change for the better." It was the realization of "maybe even worse than we imagined." The album has that mood. A lot of the songs are very devastating or the total realization of where we are.

Martti: Maybe somehow, unintentionally we're working through the seven stages of grief on some kind of compressed timeline. I don't mean that literally, but I think there is a similar psychological emotion or cycle. Who knows what the next step in the sequence or cycle will be?

You've described the album not as being nihilistic, but more so mournful. Which makes sense given that it was billed as "a breakup album for the world."

Ville: I think some people are going to read it in the way that we're somehow celebrating the destruction. It's definitely not that. It's much more coming to terms with where we are now and not being super excited about it. It's about being scared, being sad, being devastated about the state of things. Of course, there is a hope, but there wasn't so much hope on this record.

Martti: It definitely isn't any kind of accelerationist celebration of collapse. Even in the sense of collapse, it could be viewed as like an opening, or quote on quote, blank slate, something new. But there absolutely isn't that level or sense of nihilism or celebration of things falling apart. It isn't excitement caused by some of these emotions from seeing this process unfold.

Ville: It's been a funny reaction because I think there have been people who have read it as insincere or as you said, nihilistic, whereas I read it as the most honest, direct expression so far. Maybe those people are in some sort of denial themselves about the state of things.

Do you have hope that things will get better?

Ville: I mean, you have to.

Martti: It seems very likely that you have to live with this schizophrenic mentality. You have to live like the degree of normality will persist, but at the same time it's become increasingly likely that things will get much worse before they get better. The general timeline of that is the big question of our lives.

Yeah, I had it written in my notes, "Is this what the end of the world feels like?"

Martti: Collapse is an ambiguous term. It can happen faster, slower or arguably collapse has happened for large parts of the human world and the planet, especially the natural world. The future is also very unevenly distributed. Like financial problems, it's hard to say that you're in a bubble when you're in it. You only see after.

How did you go about translating a lot of these thoughts into what we hear on this album?

Ville: Very rarely do our songs have clear subjects. It's more like some sort of mood or emotion, and everything seems a bit more unclear or hazy. On this record, the mood is indifferent. Songs are much more direct and depending on the song, there is everything from defiance to devastation to denial. This is just how this selection of songs [played out]. It wasn't that we went through a checklist of, "Do we have everything covered?" This music felt good in this sequence and with these tracks together.

With Another Life, all our songs and all our albums, even though we've been called "conceptual," our albums are rarely like, "Hey let's make a record about this." It's more like, "Okay, now we feel that we have material that would come together and communicate the album nicely," and then we compile it. There hasn't been a conceptual master plan of how this would come together. A lot of our conversational processes are very trial and error, experimenting with things and sounds. We don't even know that well ourselves what the end result will be before it starts to take a shape.

Martti: But often it's clear once it exists, then it becomes clear this was channeled into this work. These were the things that influenced it, but in the midst it's less clear or as Ville said isn't directed by some kind of conceptual framework.

The visuals always play a really important part in your project. You're working with PWR Studio again for this album. What ideas and aesthetics were you playing with for this album?

Martti: PWR have been our collaborators, basically since day one. They're an elemental part of the project. The interesting thing often with the visual components is they're developed in parallel [to the music], like a quasi-independent workstream. That, of course, is influenced by the music and also the other way around. The visual aspect is an illustration of the music, but for this, if I as a spectator were to describe what I see in the artwork, there are some very clear references to some fantasy, end-of-the-century, country war like Otto Dix, which is directly referenced. All these motifs are repopulated in animated characters and avatars that are emerging from our world. You can draw some clear parallels with that period and the moment that we exist in now. That's one clear perspective into the artwork, but mining this aesthetic there are visual subcultures. There are a lot of layers to it. It's better, perhaps, not to fully explain or make it fully transparent.

Ville: Out of all the records that we've done so far, I feel that the cover art is playing an important role — especially in the vinyl cover, which is almost like a comic book. Now that we can't tour, maybe that's the way it should be experienced. You put it on very loud in your room and dive into that cover art.

Martti: With our live shows and some performances that we did last year, there is a stronger, theatrical work, performance art aspect to it. One thing we've always been interested in becoming bigger is the set design. There are motifs and tools that come with that, the environment and world depicted in the cover art. It does have a set design quality to it. Maybe as Ville said, there's an imagined, miniature set design for this performance, like a set design for dolls. For ants!

You brought in collaborators, Lalita, Code Orange and LYZZA this time around. What was it like bringing them into the Amnesia Scanner world?

Ville: I think we've all had a mutual love for one another. Code Orange and LYZZA have more of their own musical path already and Lalita's done a lot of music with us, but I feel that they're all a surprisingly natural fit. I was working with Lalita on her record and it was through working together on that we realized we're really in-tune to work together in general. We have a very similar approach on how we create music and sound. It's been super inspiring to work with her. With Code Orange in the same way, we've been in touch for some time and doing an exchange of ideas back and forth, so it felt super natural — not supernatural — to work together. That's how it's been always with our musical collaborators: there's very little traditional A&R branding happening, it's more like people that we're already doing something together with.

Is there anything you hope people take away from the record?

Ville: IThe reaction has been super spread. It's been very love-hate. That's always been the case, more or less, with Amnesia Scanner, it's so extreme on purpose. You either like it or you hate it. I prefer things like that. With this album, some people don't get it at all and some people think it's the best thing we've done. I don't know if it's the best thing we've done, but I think it's moving things into a direction that feels nice. There's something nice in the directness of things in this time. There's so much happening in the world right now that if you want to express something, the last thing you need to do is try to cloak it in some kind of mystery or complexity.

Martti: Somehow there is high density and very saturated stuff there. At the same time, we meant it as a "what you see is what you get" kind of thing. Ideally, it should be accessible without prior introductions to our work.

Where do you see Amnesia Scanner going from here?

Martti: Hopefully, whatever, the curve is upward. At this point it's hard to see exactly how the world and in particular, our world, will be remapped and reconsidered, post-COVID-19. That's something we're thinking about actively. We're in a position where we have more flexibility to rethink the ways we present our work — the way we use music as a relationship with our fans and so forth. We're actively thinking about this. There's a new normal every two weeks. I think we've gone through 26 new normals. What's at the other end of the rainbow?

Stream Amnesia Scanner's Tearless, below.

Photography: Ville Kallio