This is a rather strange one to be dropped by French industrial label Mechanoise Labs. While there has been a lot of variety over the years emanating from their camp this collection of blue and melodic electro-pop ditties I would have thought about as likely to bear the label's name as a collection of GOA trance tracks. I can't argue with the physical object sitting in my hands though so onwards and upwards.
Flatline Skyline build up their music around two main anchors: clean, emotive vocals and cinematic, dimly lit and at times cinematic IDM tinged synth pop. When I say synth pop you should think of something akin to Mago doing old Soft Cell covers, a little sweet but still quite melancholic. There is complexity here too, Phylr comes to mind for example when the celluloid flicker is particularly noticeable and each track seems to be extremely tightly crafted, perfectionist yet accomodating, economic but not cheap.
The vocals are very much in the forefront and act as workhorse for both the melody and lyrical content of the tracks. The vocalist sounds about half way between Marc Almond (sorry for the ancient reference, best I could come up with on short notice) and whathisface from Tool. The lilt in the voice is rather pronounced and adds a feminine, goth like quality which you will either adore or hate. J. Kemp's approach here (he handles the majority of the vocal duties) is to lyricise in a detached, delicate manner which reads a bit like a despondent youth staring at the sunset from a high balcony wondering whether they would scream as they fell if they stepped over the railing. You could even go as far to call this "synth emo" I suppose except for the fact that there is zero overt anger on this release, just an aloof sort of sadness.
I'm not so much of a dick to make the suggestion that what is here is not both adeptly executed and quite beautiful in its own way because it is and I am finding that it is growing on me through repeated listens which is a positive sign. For what it aims to do, this release is extremely successful and many aspects of it are for sure enticing - melodic hooks subtle enough to snag deep without triggering your pain receptors, structure at times breathtaking in its taught craftmanship and a consistency of vision that I definitely can appreciate. Where I run into difficulties is mostly a personal thing (or flaw depending on your viewpoint) - effeminate male vocals tend to irritate me. What exasperates this is that J. Kemp never rises above the level of mild detachment in his delivery and while not downright snide, it does come off as needlessly aloof, like he is holding someone else's baby while they get a fresh diaper and rolling his eyes the entire time. Even when the sounds underneath rise up in emotional revolt as on "Riots In The Bloodstream" the frontman is still off smoking a clove cigarette in the green room. Just once I wish that the manicured mask of control would slip off to reveal some deeper emotion or at the very least, vulnerability.
How "Horizon Grid" fits into your musical landscape will really depend on what you seek. If this was an instrumental release I would be unabashedly positive I expect and even in its current form I definitely respect the results despite being a little queasy about the vocal delivery. If you dabble in synth pop and Gothic realms with regularity then you should have no qualms about diving into this blue, serene pool (this is your new favourite album) but if you have been grinding your teeth on harder grains you might want to acclimatize yourself first lest you die from insulin shock upon initial listening (Seda E Marg this ain't).