Be warned: Enter the world of Charms, and you are encountering a place that is exhilarating, disorienting, and seductive as hell. Feel like facing your demons today? Their songs are the soundtrack for you. It's definitely not background music—the band's immense, torrential, razor-edged sound will charge into your speakers (and your brain) and demand your full attention.
Human Error, out June 16 on Killroom Records, is the first album for Charms. Lead singer/guitarist E.J. Tolentino, keyboardist and synth master Joshua McCormick, and drummer Ray McCoy first recorded Human Error in a "decent studio for cheap," explains Tolentino, but they ran into technical issues. When they played the master for producer Randall Dunn (from Master Musicians of Bukkake), he said they could do better—and offered to produce it with the band. Dunn's workflow, says Tolentino, was "incredibly efficient"—they had everything tracked, recorded, mixed, and mastered within a week's time.
"He had a lot of suggestions for overdubs that made the songs sound much fatter and richer," Tolentino says. "One of the biggest changes he suggested was for us to play our song "Gold Statue" at almost half the speed. After playing it slower, it was obvious that he was completely right. It had so much more of a groove to it, and you could really hear the hooks."
In their video for "Siren" and in their live show visuals (created by artists Kevin Blanquies and Lauren Rodriguez), there's an almost obsessive fixation with the aesthetics of technology—the glitches, circuit boards, machine relics, digital decay.
"There's something beautiful about the imperfections of technology," says Tolentino. "It's those instances of gremlins where you find humanity in what is supposed to be perfect and pristine. Imperfections of what is marketed as perfection—human error."
The band's fascination with modern technology is a pervasive theme in their music—a potent, driving force with both limitless potential and terrifying capabilities. The paradox, McCoy explains, is fascinating to them. "We're simultaneously inspired by technological fantasy, empowered by modern musical technology, and made constantly anxious by the weight of society's tech fetishes."
On Human Error, an apocalyptic apprehension creeps in, where the power of this fantasy seems menacing and inescapable: "Bow down to centrifuge / Look at you, you've got nothing to lose," Tolentino wails anxiously on the track "Anak Ko" (which means "I love you, my child" in Tagalog). Surely, some of this is informed by living in Seattle, where any day now, a swarm of Amazon Prime delivery drones may whiz by your window bringing the latest Xbox release to the doors of wealthy technocrats.
"In Seattle, particularly in the arts community right now, there's constant discussion about where we belong and how we can survive as the city seems to shift its focus toward people who make their livings in the tech sector and away from the grunge and Hendrix stuff it was once famous for," says McCoy. "At times, it can feel like we're being forced out and directly oppressed by this big evil entity called TECH."
And yet at the same time, McCoy says, it dominates our lives and imaginations with its information overflow and creative possibility, which Charms deftly display on Human Error when they layer electronic pinpricks and blips over gritty, gravelly punk chords, like in the song "Kill Data."
"Our songs don't sound like Boss music from a Sega Genesis game because we have an aversion to it—that shit runs deep with us," McCoy explains. "We actively use piles of digital effects on top of our instruments to replicate the feel of these apocalyptic, cyberpunk, Blade Runner worlds. In a lot of ways, we grew up in those worlds, but now we are terrified of actually watching the city around us melt into our childhood fantasies."