Factory Floor’s earliest singles were arresting. Noisy, brooding songs like “Bipolar” and “A Wooden Box” juxtaposed musician Nik Colk Void’s monotone vocals with pummeling synths and jarring electric guitar, recalling post-punk musicians from the ’80s like early Cabaret Voltaire and SPK. The English electronic trio played concerts with a live drummer (Gabe Gurnsey) and plenty of improvisation. “The chaotic aspect is something we can control but also something that we don’t want to control,” Gurnsey said once in an interview. “It’s exciting to let the music do its own thing.”
But on their self-titled debut LP, released three years ago on DFA Records, the band toned down the industrial severity and started making sleek dance music. Where once they filled every inch of their songs with relentless synths and percussion, now they embraced a new, almost trance-like electronic sound. The band’s follow-up, 25 25, continues to sharpen their sparse style, this time without original third member Dominic Butler, offering up a collection of songs that solidify the impression that this band isn’t retreating back into chaos anytime soon.
25 25 is clean and patient, its songs wrapping tightly around circulatory, thumping beats and modular synths as reverbed vocals flash in and out as if they were keyboard presets themselves. The opener, “Meet Me at the End,” kicks off with a squelchy synth loop that ultimately takes a backseat to scattered, prickly percussion. “25 25” starts with a snappy, hand-clap-laden 808-beat until a synth line inches its way in two minutes into the track like an unexpected worm; soon it's rescinded, never to come back again. The standout single “Ya” is a kaleidoscope of a track, like Kraftwerk trying their hand at house music. Throughout, Gurnsey and Void’s vocals are the most opaque they’ve ever been, pitched lower and echoed in robotic, glitchy ways that obscure many of their messages; on the hypnotic “Dial Me In,” their voices are layered in unsettling ways as they sing a creepy, abstract list of emotions and movements: “Sad face...awkward,” their collective voice says. “Ready to like you too much.”
The minimalism of 25 25 isn't any more intensely repetitive than their older work, but it does play with significantly slower pacing. Where once on older songs like “Fall Back” or “REAL LOVE,” Factory Floor threw you right into fast, heart-pumping beats, on 25 25 they seem more in love with the slow build than ever before. Their music may seem simple at first listen, but their songs oh-so-slowly open themselves up to reveal their quirks, like a classic New Order song.
Around the time of Factory Floor’s debut, critics lamented how the band seemed to downplay their post-punk past, sanding off the rough-around-the-edges charm that came together in the mix and made them stand out. With their latest turn, the band has found a new way to be aggressive: The songs on 25 25 are pushy, but insidiously so, as voices seem to crawl from out under freaky landscapes of high-hats and disco lazers to offer a coldly assuring “ya, ya, ya.” You can still hear the music “doing its own thing,” as Gurnsey once said, but this time there’s space for Factory Floor’s sounds to breathe.