The Air Conditioned Nightmare is the second full-length release from Doldrums, the musical brainchild of Arbutus Records alumnus Airick Woodhead. While not a solo project per se — Woodhead performed with a backing band while touring in support of his 2013 debut, Lesser Evil, and has said this collaborative, nomadic milieu heavily influenced his songwriting — Doldrums is nonetheless, predominantly the spawn of Woodhead’s twisted, visionary intellect.
Nightmare is a mad scientist’s assemblage of alien synths and strangely danceable beats, soldered together with DIY samples that sound like field recordings from another dimension. Woodhead’s elfin vocals glide over and through these soundscapes like a cybernetic hawk navigating the ruins of a dystopic metropolis. This album is not a drastic divergence from its predecessor, it is a sleeker, upgraded version; the parts fit together better, it’s more polished, and it runs more efficiently.
Aside from the bold and complex range of sonic texturing to be heard on this album, what also makes Nightmare special is that the lyrics have an authentic literary quality, not often prominent in electronic music. The album is named after a collection of essays by Henry Miller about his experiences driving through America after a decade in Europe. These essays are a scathing critique of a culture based on greed and cruelty, mass production, and exploitation. True to this spirit, Doldrums’ tracks like “Video Hostage” don’t hesitate to draw their imagery from the grotesque, alienating aspects of modern existence: “Laying by the exit in plain view / No one slows down to notice you / Is he sleeping or is he dead? / Is it a cry for attention? / Video hostage, one billion views / No one stays long enough to know it’s you.” Woodhead’s shamanic crooning delivers this subject matter like a dadaist prank; gilded with such rich sounds and alluring beats that it’s already embedded deep in your subconscious by the time you realise what he’s singing about.
Other tracks like “HOTFOOT,” “Loops,” and “My Friend Simjen,” give high-energy, manic, distortions of EDM revelry, which impishly mess with your expectations and take you places you hadn’t realised you wanted to be. The Air Conditioned Nightmare manages to be dark, trippy, seductive, and ecstatic in a variety of ways. The gestalt of these elements becomes both an expression of social revolt and also some gesture towards a better way of life; one founded more on creative community and respect for life, than personal gain at the expense of others. But none of that would matter if it didn’t sound so good, and this album is definitely worthy of much replay.