Inspired by JG Ballard’s writings, Concrete Desert does feel like one more nail in the coffin of the architectural dreams of mid-20th century modernism, if only because it sounds like vast, empty spaces lifelessly baked by the sun, that ancient symbol of vitality just wasting away its energy on all the things we built and which are simply incapable of organic growth. The album cover illustrates this inspiration well by means of an overlapping mass of roads and structures in spectral form, a barren reproduction of the fantastic, a ghostly un-life hostile to walking, to breathing, to anything conceivably of a human scale.
The Bug and Earth may sound unlikely as a collaborative pairing, but what they’ve created here plays to their strengths in significant ways. Effectively meshing together the electronics of The Bug and the drones of Earth would have sounded almost impossible a few years ago, and yet the newfound rhythmical play of Earth in the past few years and the straightforwardly eclectic approach of The Bug to electronic music grant Concrete Desert a uniqueness that would not be too out of place with early industrial music: distorted electronic drones, tarmac-slow blues, and beats with a deep artificial crunch set the listener right in the midst of an abandoned factory in the outskirts of a sun-deadened city. And just like early industrial music, there’s an underlying question of the relationship between dystopia and utopia, except here there’s less of an entire philosophical endeavor and more of a simple question of dreams that haunt. Where tracks like the opener “City of Fallen Angels” and “Snakes Vs. Rats” find violence in the very core that animates those ghostly ideas, whether as a long, long process of decay in the former or a vicious confrontation in the latter, tracks like “Other Side of the World” or the titular “Concrete Desert” find something else, something like the sadness that only a dream of reason would ever be able to provoke.
The lifelessness of Concrete Desert, in this sense, is a dark mirror of something vital, the survival of an ideal form of life that is seemingly no longer capable of grasping the future. The dearth of possibility brings, however, focus, like the lone scavengers we usually associate with mere survival — all those snakes and rats — but which are leading a low-key kind of life, an existence unburdened by the desire to reach the heavens. The bluesy riffs and the grumbling, long electronic drones ground those dreams to dust, which is to say they lift the veil and allow us to bask in the burning sunlight to tread once more upon the dry, cracked concrete, unburdened with all those haunting images of a future perfect. (David Murrieta)