Assemblage 23 “Mourn” – album review


This isn’t what I signed up for/this is misery”, Assemblage 23 frontman and creator Tom Shear sings on the opening track “Epiphany.” Over the years, the dark, synth-pop influenced future-pop sound of Assemblage 23 has filled dance floors around the world with iconic singles like “The Noise Inside My Head”, “Salt The Earth,” and “Disappoint,” among many others. Shear’s emotionally cathartic lyrics against unforgettable dance beats and huge synths have been a fixture of the dark alternative music scene for decades. It’s only fitting then that this single lyric would adequately sum up such a universal feeling of despair and grief, less than five minutes into the album.

Starting slow and dark, Mourn gathers momentum through “Factory,” an anti-war anthem, “Bloom” with its reminder that we’re not alone, and “Confession”, baring all in a sound reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s Violator era. It feels a little strange and sad to listen to what so many of us think of as “club music” in the isolation of our homes, but there’s something so brutally introspective about this one that sets it apart.

By the time the gut-wrenching “Welcome, Apocalypse” arrives, you might already be stunned into stillness because you want to pay attention. It has all the makings of our favorite future pop single; catchy synths and four on the floor. Yet its lyrics unapologetically capture the horror of the pandemic, from food lines to sacrificial “essential workers” to the isolation we’ve all been experiencing, with a haunting refrain: “Welcome apocalypse/what’s taken you so long? Bring us the fitting end that we’ve been counting on/welcome apocalypse/we’ve been expecting you/we brought this on ourselves, now kindly follow through.”

Yet, the album would not be without its messages of hope at the end of the song: “Faces on a tiny screen/we’ll see you soon.” Mourn moves through themes of betrayal in “Could’ve”, tackles self-awareness in “Tragedy” and on the last song, “This House Is Empty”, brings us closure. It starts off airy and sparse. It doesn’t need an epic instrumental build-up in the chorus because the words say it all: “Burn it down.”

Mourn is a soundtrack for the club-goers who sit at home on Friday evenings scrolling despondently through Twitch streams while longing for the world to return to normal. But it’s also more than that; the overarching themes of isolation, anxiety, and despair are relatable to many of us right now. The album is made for soul-searching, seemingly from the point of view of a nameless protagonist who could be any or all of us, as they work through phases of grief and mourning. As a lyricist, Shear is a master at making the personal into the universal, and making individual experiences and feelings relatable to all; when we listen, we feel that the song is about us.

Set for release on September 11th, 19 years after the tragedy, Mourn sets a mood that feels very much like our collective grief has reached its peak; if it doesn’t speak for all of us, it at least speaks to most of us. Yet, instrumentally, the programming and melodies are beautifully layered and dynamic, allowing the album to pull us out of ourselves, to remind us that we can still dance… even alone in our living rooms.