Digital Nightmare treads familiar ground to hold a mirror up to our technological, algorithm-determined world in the funnest, funkiest way possible.

Release date: March 22, 2024 | Independent | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Bandcamp

It’s been a while, almost three years, since we’ve gotten an LP from TWRP. They dropped an EP last August, but I skipped out on it review-wise due to time, and I figured we’d get an album in no time anyway. Here we are. As I gear up my fifth review for the band – the most coverage I’ve done for any band in my almost seven-year career – I go into this one looking to feel refreshed by the cool quartet, to feel familiar vibes with neat surprises that act as a culmination of all this time away.

And hey, that’s mostly what I get from Digital Nightmare. Despite the title, TWRP remain sunny and fun on this new album, but there’s some thoughtful and serious-ish musings in the lyrics and themes. Sonically, they’re mostly the same, though channeling Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories by way of the beach more than the city pop flavors like on Return to Wherever. That, and the synths feel more reined in this time around – the instrumentation is much more focused on the drums, bass, and guitar with synth padding or passages throughout tracks.

The song “Content 4 U” is a great representation of the album’s approach. It’s a bass-heavy joint with a bit of a sinister lyrical weight, lamenting the need to appease algorithms to stay relevant and shy away from the creation of art in lieu of the creation of content. The refrain of ‘got to feed the machine‘ just about says it all, but I would recommend watching the video for the track as it has adorable puppet versions of Doctor Sung, Commander Meouch, Havve Hogan, and Lord Phobos coming up with content ideas that reference everything from YouTube staple Will It Blend? to viral phenomena like the milk crate challenge that I’m sure got someone killed at some point. This is the sort of song that, while still delivered in a fun and cheerful manner, makes you reflect and think on how we’ve managed to monetize just about everything in our lives, including hobbies, to the point of burnout and depression. Not much escapes the lurching, rotting hand of late-stage capitalism and how everything has to have an inherent value outside of personal fulfillment. ANYWAY…

Of course TWRP remain lighthearted at the core. More than usual, Digital Nightmare has a bit of a retrofuture soul to it with tracks like “HTMLOVE” and “Online”, the latter of which is a swanky collab between the TWRP boys and performers/artists Tom Cardy and Montaigne. The variety in vocals is nice and the guests’ Aussie accents provide more texture to chew on besides Doctor Sung’s talkbox, though I will say he lets it slip just a little on the formerly mentioned song so you can hear more of his natural voice. Both tracks are two sides of the same TWRPy coin with “HTMLOVE” being the cyberlovestruck, plucky heads to the other one’s funky tails.

“Dream Vacation” is a gentle track, one of the calmest the band has put out maybe ever. The premise is simple yet effective with breezy, crisp instrumentation and melodic vocals to set the scene for a serene, relaxing getaway, but there’s a catch as the hook says: it’s all in your head. One quality that TWRP have always held up as a strength is how they can transport you to another realm and this track’s a prime example of how and why, even if it’s more literal here with allusions to VR and head implants. And hey, they’re also keen to send you to the post-apocalyptic dance floor like with “Dance Floor Cold War”, a much more upfront, bold, and disco-oriented song. And in case the throwback feel wasn’t enough up to now, “Dare To Dream” and “Firewall” are wholly indebted to ’80s pop rock with flammable solos and huge choruses respectively.

There’s an interesting dynamic between the songs on Digital Nightmare, mostly tracing back to that title. “HTMLOVE”, “Dream Vacation”, “Content 4 U”, and others all paint specific pictures of how technology has screwed us in many ways, and will continue to at this rate. There’s always this scary bogeyman scapegoat that Gen X and boomers like to assail us millennials and younger generations with, that our computers and phones have broken us, making us antisocial, insular, more anxious, etc. I won’t say those things are completely unfounded – I certainly am irreversibly changed from my upbringing surrounded by the tech I was – and the way TWRP approach these sorts of ideas and themes, in character of course, isn’t heavy-handed. I appreciate them for keeping it as real as they could without getting overly serious or sad, though I probably wouldn’t have minded that either.

As usual, TWRP provide a fun time for just about any occasion. It’s reliable, it’s vibes incarnate, but it’s also much of the same. I never really expect them to change things up a lot at all because to do so would betray not only a solid fanbase they’ve curated over 15 years, but their whole aesthetic. That said, I’m starting to feel a little fatigue from it all, even after all this time between albums. I’ve enjoyed my listens to formulate this review, but after this I can’t say for sure if I’ll be going back to Digital Nightmare often when I can get something more from Return to Wherever, Over The Top, or a whole other band that is more varied, especially with a new Justice album on the way.

Maybe that just proves TWRP‘s sticking point all the more though. They haven’t built up all this art – not content! – for nothing, and Digital Nightmare is more of it for better or worse. No matter what happens after this, I’ll always appreciate the band’s dedication to good music with awesome mixes, their ear for fun collabs, and carving out a lovely niche with their gimmick in the indie music circuit. I know it’ll always be a cozy home if and when I need it, and that’s a comfort I’m not afforded too often in music.

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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