Joel Eel's Heart Works Harder Than Most on 'Love Infinity'
Published May 11, 2022Late capitalism permeates all: work days stretching into unnecessary commutes; the market invading private moments and commodifying attention, sowing class division. It's a lot to bear, but Joel Eel's heart works harder than most.
In 2020, the producer born Chol Eul was diagnosed with a heart disease called atrial fibrillation, a condition that can manifest in rapid heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath and a heart rate of 203 BPM (faster than trance music, a press release points out). It was also a red flag that demanded intense isolation and multiple trips to the emergency room at the height of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
But on his new album Love Infinity, Eul sounds as enchanted as he was alienated by the hand he was dealt, generating spaces that range from brutal and desolate, to fertile and connective. Animating that tension, there's a new penchant for vaporous synthesizer tones that could soar through city skylines, but beats still land with crunchy distortion bearing the rough tactility and populist physicality of arcade fighting games; the industrial compulsions that have long defined Eul's EBM are not so much diminished as they are sublimated and given a new organic quality, pumping and pulsing like a portrait of the body as overworked factory.
Where Eul's voice featured prominently on 2018's Performing a Crime and infused that record with an austere, goth-punk energy, the more prominent voices on Love Infinity are the softly affected contributions of guests. The producer has spoken of his attempts to undermine EBM's masculinity on previous releases, and appearances from the likes of Toronto producer/DJ Kayla Domenica and Seoul's Leevisa further that project, Eul deploying them in ways that reinforce the record's conceptual grounding.
Musically inspired by the social media phenomenon where users will mass document the collective experience of a particularly striking sunset, "Screen Resolution" features Domenica delivering both sides of a spoken dialogue between "Heaven" and "Earth." To which character each line in the exchange belongs is ambiguous to the ear, but captioning in the accompanying video clarifies things, playing into the track's title. Eul's hardware plays up the harmony between the celestial and the earthly, extended synth notes radiating networked golden hour warmth and solace, while deep, throbbing bass drums ground it all in the rhythm of daily life.
The album's title track is cast in another amber glow, Leevisa delivering an impressionistic portrait of human dependence and withdrawal: "Scotch, turn, gin / Sherry cask, turn, gin / Bourbon, Olmeca," she coos in Korean throughout the track, spirits rolling off the tongue, "Cinnamon orange finish." Later in the track, the image of the sun returns, this time an idol of disconnection: "I open my eyes / To see a bright sun in the distance / Shines between us / Never to imagine / The two of us endlessly walking together."
Whether galvanizing or punishing, moments of daylight are interspersed with nocturnal scenes throughout the album, conveying a rapid passing of time. "Life Vessel" sounds like an aural time-lapse of public transit, while the shimmering club euphoria of "Fragrance Unity" feels like it's gliding through a fishbowl of apartment light lens flares.
Drifting mechanically from job to apartment and back again, Love Infinity's characters seek refuge in temporary gratification, pawing idly through Instagram or pacing the liquor store for chemical gratification. But the album goes beyond that depressive hedonism to console a loneliness that feels just as specific as it does universal, Eul's overworked heart beating not just for himself, but the world around him, too.
Again and again, Love Infinity takes an atmosphere of hustle and time scarcity and meets it with abundance, literally slowing things down to regroup. In one track's title, he even hints the solution might be programmed into the problem — "Saturation Clarity." The first of a two-part suite, "Hybrid Human Pt. I" rolls with the sensory overload of a punching bag pugilism, and its other half emerges from it with a sense of relaxed flexibility. "Ten Thousand Years" borrows its name from an ancient Chinese blessing of long life once reserved for emperors, but has since trickled into mundane vernacular throughout the East Asian cultural sphere. It sets sampled speech floating around monotonous, booming kicks, tweeting synthesizers and twisty patches to dizzying effect; as sonic metaphor, it's a psychedelic account of the way information's spread diffuses hegemonic power.
For all the moments of darkness, Love Infinity is about hope. However difficult they are to predict, the rhythms are just patterns. They can be manipulated, overcome. For Eul, they will be. They have to be. (Perpetual Care)