There are multiple outcomes that can occur as a result of a band releasing a record after a lengthy hiatus. Some achieve the impossible, beat the odds, and put out an album that ranks among their best efforts. Others try to adapt to a wildly different musical climate, often losing the very aspect of their work that made people want them back in the first place. And some play it safe, releasing material that can range from merely serviceable to a subpar clone of past glories. It’s been twelve years since Atari Teenage Riot released their last studio album. The group’s newest effort, Is This Hyperreal?, falls into the latter category, succeeding in retaining the group’s specific brand of noise, but achieving little else.
Everything one has come to expect from the band is here – the abrasive electronic work, the buzz-saw guitars, the anti-establishment message, and the breakneck speed. Atari Teenage Riot is one of those artists with a unique enough sound and a solid enough grasp of their aesthetic that any one of their albums is worthy of a listen. But the main issue with this newest offering is that there isn’t anything on it that makes a solid case for its need to exist. Stuck somewhere in between decent and forgettable, it’s an album that does nothing to enhance the band’s legacy or tarnish it.
Take opener “Activate,” for instance. The track kicks off the album well enough, immediately refilling the signature space ATR has left vacant for over a decade. And yet as soon as the song ends, it’s hard to recall exactly how it went. This is the case for the entirety of the album – it sounds like ATR, it looks like ATR, but one can’t shake the feeling that the band has done this before, and done it better, in previous outings. Even the sole standout here, “Blood In My Eyes,” succeeds not necessarily because of any sort of true greatness, but because it’s the one track that moves the band, slightly, into a different, more pop territory.
The few changes the band does make on the record amount to little more than surface level distractions. Steve Aoki makes an ineffectual appearance on “Codebreaker,” the only reasoning behind his inclusion likely being the band’s strange decision to release the album on Aoki’s electro-oriented Dim Mak label. And the change that held the most potential, the addition of CX KiDTRONiK, who put in strong work on Saul Williams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, disappointingly doesn’t add much of anything to the group’s dynamic. His primary role on the record appears to be that of a hype man – an underutilization of what could have been a fresh addition to the band’s lineup.
Again, no wrong moves are made here, just familiar ones, which leaves us with a record that is virtually interchangeable with any of the band’s prior works. To put it simply, Is This Hyperreal? suffers not because the band made a bad album, but because this is the fourth time they’ve repeated the formula.