Crimson EP –

Karren Kider Lilac(4 out of 5 stars)

Null Device is in a unique position that I hope they appreciate before they get signed, which I feel is an inevitability. Theirs is the position of being able to make music for no one but themselves, and it is their greatest strength since it allows them the joy of pure creativity; no agenda, no pressure. It is a strength so overpowering as to far outweigh their weaknesses, which once the band is on a label there will be anarmy of critics waiting to expose said weaknesses for the whole musical community to see, which has ruined more than one good artist. Until that day, we have beautiful, uncut gems such as this to enjoy. The title track sets the mood for the whole CD; a misty ambience settles over big, wet, squishy keyboard sounds, Chemical Brothers-ish distorted drums, and reverb-drenched vocals. Singer Eric Oehler, who handles most of the songwriting and all of the performative duties in the band, with cohort Eric Goedken dishing out lyrics and sample treatments, sounds rather like Neil Tennant's huskier-voiced younger brother, which is a blessing or a curse, depending on how you view the Pet Shop Boys. British delivery aside, Oehler's voice is clear and heartfelt and his backing vocals add a gregorian timelessness to the foggy urban fantasyscape conjured by his big beats and dense, multitimbral keyboard arrangements. Some of the counterpoint is a bit suspect, and while at their current level this is merely idiosyncratic, it could prove dangerous when they move up a level. The beats are versatile to the point of Multiple-Personality Disorder, with straight industrial mixing with house, drum 'n' bass (see “Fairy Tale”), and a little techno.

Whatever performative skills the Null Device may have, songwriting is what makes or breaks a band, and the Device has no lack of songwriting skills. “Strongest Man in the Universe” is a heartbreakingly beautiful paen to the isolation and despair we all feel when our lives tumble out of control, while the title track (of which there are two pointless alternate versions — I hesitate to call them remixes) sensitively explores the ghostly, platonic(!) relationship between the female subject of the song (who seems to be a spiritual pilgrim of some sort, or just a regular person wanting something worth believing in), and the benevolent singer/narrator, who is a representative of some phantasmic collective of spiritual counselors. All in all, Null Device has the skills necessary to become a major-league band, so it's just a question of whether or not they wish to hone their skills and take the next step. One way or another, this is a great disc by a great underground band.