Permanent: Social Disease | ★★★½

[Modern Tapes; June 25]

In the 1980s, a generation of underground artists married the DIY ethos of punk with the then-novel tools of electronic dance music, releasing records that brought to life a darker, harsher vision of synth-pop, almost playful in its deadpan austerity.

Some of these groups, like Germany’s D.A.F., went on to have surprisingly successful careers on major labels; most, though, languished in obscurity, their releases surviving the decades through vinyl and cassette enthusiasts and, eventually, the endless archive of the internet.

It’s fitting that, recording under the name Permanent, Durham’s Mimi Luse would make a home here: for the last couple of years, Luse has made a habit of seeking out the weirder corners of pop music, from the yé-yé-inspired post-punk of 2019’s Cochonne EP to the sound collages of last year’s Manhole project.

Permanent’s Social Disease, released June 25 by Brooklyn-based cassette label Modern Tapes, is Luse’s latest stylistic turn.

Almost entirely self-produced on vintage samplers and synthesizers—save for a collaboration with Durham’s Yung Target on “Exterminer le Mystère”—Social Disease is a celebration of these early experiments in industrial and techno. The record is open about its influences (Luse cites D.A.F., the Australian group Spk, and Throbbing Gristle spin-off Chris & Cosey as some of her main touchpoints), but alternately deconstructs and builds upon the basic formula of mechanized bass lines and distorted drum machines.

Opener “Psychotic Crush,” for instance, sounds like an engine haltingly sputtering to life, teasing a four-on-the-floor pulse that never arrives.

From there, the album moves deftly between body and atmosphere; even the most dancefloor-ready highlights, like “Big White Hearse” and “Digital Bride,” are coated with ambient dissonance around the edges, recalling the found-sound techniques of Luse’s work as Manhole.

Whether this direction is as enduring as the project’s name suggests—or, if Luse’s previous projects are any indication, Permanent is just a temporary detour—remains to be seen. But for now, it’s an invigorating study into a pivotal moment in the underground. 

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