Sounds of Intelligent Life: Outputmessage ponders the cosmos.
Sounds of Intelligent Life: Outputmessage ponders the cosmos.

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The first 10 seconds of “Redshift,” the lead track on the latest album by Outputmessage, barely sound like anything all—just the building of eerie, sci-fi-theme synths, at first hardly louder than a hum but soon with a magisterial, retro-futuristic enormity, as though a God-sized spaceship has finally entered the frame at the end of a title sequence. Outputmessage—aka Bernard Farley, a D.C.-based EDM producer and singer also known for his work with Volta Bureau—is telling you to readjust your senses, to prepare to comprehend something the size of the universe. There’s a reason he called this thing The Infinite Void.

After “Redshift” comes the title track, an ominous procession of bruising drums and jittery, shivery electronics, with a bassy, serrated counter-melody that belongs in a George A. Romero movie. It’s abrasive, unnerving, and it seems Farley wants you to either dance freely or take cover from the zombie apocalypse.

That stance isn’t so weird for Farley, who’s been making smart, immersive, subtly confounding dance music since 2003, when he was in his late teens. For The Infinite Void, Farley has said he wanted to journey through the universe and tell its story. He delivers with a set of cosmic, cavernous tunes that reach for the stars but, gratifyingly, don’t always rely on the cinematic touch that Farley so clearly loves to deploy. His space travel isn’t just about grandeur and terror; it can just as often feel pensive and nocturnal, like music for a place with no sound.

Compare that to Outputmessage’s last album, 2010’s Autonomous, which was brighter and more straightforward and, frankly, sounded a lot like Daft Punk lite. Although Farley does far less singing, The Infinite Void has more to say. On “Gravity” and “Core,” Farley’s wispy vocals emerge for a few bars before floating away, as though his songs are briefly wafting through clouds of other ones. Then there’s “Minuscule,” which opens with an airy groove of haunting moans. It builds until the song’s mid-point, when Farley sings about man’s place in the cosmos, a perspective he cannily buries beneath a nebula of tribal drums and celestial sounds.

Farley’s theme slowly comes into view as the album progresses, and even the dancefloor-ready bangers take a few listens to fully absorb. The pulsing “Satellites” isn’t especially murky, laying out Farley’s aims: “In time and space,” he drones, his voice peeking through the opaque sonic wilderness, “we go forward, in the darkness, we find our way.” Groovy. In attempting to explain the cosmos, Farley’s instead created his own utopia. Wherever it is, it’s beyond this world.