To me, the beauty of A Scene In Retrospect is the sheer diversity of its scope. We can go from metal to jazz, folk to avant-rock, and in this case, post-punk to electronica-spliced rock music without so much as batting an eye. As the curator, I don’t even have to be intimately familiar with a record – if a writer (or two, or three) expresses interest in covering a record and its merits are obvious even from an outside perspective, that’s all it takes to convince me. Hence why we’re here today: In Silico by Australian electro-rock phenomenon Pendulum isn’t an album I’m too well-versed in, but my friend and fellow EIN editor David is, so let’s see what he’s got to say about it.
I will never in my life forget the first time I heard “The Tempest” and Pendulum as a whole. My best friend, a gearhead, got his car spruced up with a new sound system, and so naturally, me and another pal went on a ride with him. He played that ending track from the band’s 2008 album, In Silico. It’s a slow build-up of bass, guitars, some strings, and Rob Swire’s vocals; a churning, confident spread of sound that really encapsulates the rising energy of the extreme weather it’s named after.
Then, 1:50 in, distorted guitars ring out with a catchy riff, and drums come in with a delectable beat you can’t help but stomp along to. Swire’s vocals are much higher, yelled out:
‘Something is changing
Bruising and aching
And I’m trying to find out what it is
When I fix her, she’s breaking
Reason keeps escaping me
Protecting and burning like a cyst’
Absolute aural bliss.
“The Tempest” has one of the best drops in music I’ve ever heard even if it’s not a traditional heavy drop with rumbling bass and murderous synths like you find in dubstep or adjacent hard electronic music. It was so good, I remember we ended up looping the song, or at least the first half, a few times while driving.
That day unlocked something in me as someone who wasn’t very into much EDM or drum and bass. Daft Punk had made great impressions on me – fun music for fun times; more electrorock and pop bands sank their teeth into me like Men, Women & Children and Junior Senior, but it wasn’t until after my Pendulum renaissance that I was listening to the likes of Disclosure, Nero, Netsky, and synthwave revivalists like Kavinsky and Oliver. First, though, I ate up all Pendulum had to offer.
At that time, they only had two albums: In Silico and Hold Your Colour. The latter was a more straightforward drum and bass affair, and it took quite a while for it to grow on me. “Slam” was a big song for them, and it being hip-hop flavored left it open territory for nerdcore rapper YTCracker to use the beat for a song (this is technically how I first heard Pendulum, but I didn’t know it at the time). I can’t find any trace of that song anywhere, but trust me, it existed. The whole album had this roller coaster quality to it with peaks and valleys of activity and vitality that were easy to grasp onto. I love it now.
In Silico was a winner because it was a bit more mixed with its d&b production and live band interpolation. After all, there was/is at least five damn members in Pendulum at any given time, and they all weren’t sitting at the turntables or laptop slapping keys, buttons, and dials. We get guitars, bass, live drums, and the expected synthesizer work, DJing, and MCing, all coalescing to make an organically synthetic (or synthetically organic) experience. Even at the instrumentation’s coldest points, you could always count on Swire’s vocals to be the warm heart of the band with his reliably calm voice that had some decent range. The album’s title and cover art even plays with this notion, the latter showing a fetus growing in the center of an artificial, maze-like womb surrounded by circuitry.
It was much more than “The Tempest”, too. In fact, the very first track leaves a great impression as well. Being more immediately energetic and pulse-pounding, “Showdown” is a wonderfully explosive track that hits you with that staggered drum and bass production pretty hard upfront with its drop coming 38 seconds in. It feels like a high-flying adventure, an adrenal romp through the sky that I always imagined as soundtracking some futuristic dogfights between sleek, speedy ships with a cocky main character coming out on top.
“Propane Nightmares” has more skittering synth melodies to it and feels more catchy in general, which made for it being a shoo-in for a single when the hype was building for the album. “Visions” features highly modulated vocals which shifts the spectrum pretty cleanly to the synthetic side of things, but it all sounds great and we do get some lovely guitar licks to accent it all with a human touch. I love the buzzy synth that pervades much of the song as well. I still get chills listening to what I consider the ‘hook’ of the track where the melodies wind up and down as if swirling in a vortex and spit out at a high speed.
“Midnight Runner” is appropriately dark and moody, but still builds tension nicely, with a nice drop with incoming drums (and bass) after the two-minute mark. This one’s like a spy thriller or something, a bit gritty and loud while keeping a sense of poshness orbiting close by. “Mutiny” is playful with some video game-like synths and a cheery bounce to the rhythm. I could imagine this coming from an old, forgotten classic NES game if it were bit-crushed and compressed to hell. It also has a very subtle, pitched-down sample of Chuck D’s vocals from one of my favorite Public Enemy songs, “Shut ‘Em Down”. “Granite” takes this approach a bit too, but adds a little bit of eerie, cool-ass theremin because they could.
Pendulum were well-loved in their prime, which sort of reinforced my love for them because I knew it wasn’t just a beginner’s ears thinking something was the most earth-shattering shit when it was really pretty mediocre within the greater scope of the genre or scene. Then again, maybe their popularity did manifest some contrarian haters – that’s a thing, right? That shouldn’t have mattered anyway. All that mattered was that I liked it. It’s absolutely wild that In Silico is 15 years old now, or was as of May 13 this year anyway.
A bit after this album, the Aussies dropped Immersion, an album that leaned ever so slightly more on the electronic elements of their sound, like Hold Your Colour did. By then, it wasn’t nearly as much of a hard sell though – I ate Immersion up, though not as much as In Silico. After Immersion, Pendulum went on hiatus, and Swire and bassist Gareth McGrillen went onto pivot to dubstep act Knife Party, which had its own rousing success. Pendulum did reunite though, even dropping an EP in 2021 called Elemental. It was OOOOOOOOKAAAAAAAAY (“Come Alive” was pretty cool, though, with its slight cyberpunkish influence).
Who knows if we’ll ever see another LP from Pendulum. At this rate, I don’t really care. I’m totally comfortable falling back on their first three albums, which I consider a trinity of drum and bass greatness as far as my ears are concerned. Not much out there beats the raw energy and fun you could find on In Silico. It found a highly palatable mix of human elements complemented by electronic accoutrements. I still go back to it once in a while when I just wanna remember, something I have trouble doing on my own these days. I’d invite anyone with a penchant for EDM or drum and bass to check it out if they somehow haven’t already. At the very least, it should pump you up for whatever you have to face in your life. That’s worth a lot these days.