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Brotman & Short, "Distance Unknown"

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cover imageEver since the noise community discovered synth pop and minimal wave was born, there has been an excessive influx of pseudo punks armed with TR-606s and unreliable monophonic synthesizers noodling around trying to be the Human League.  The problem is that far too many emphasize the minimal part and crank out Soundcloud accounts full of boring repetition and no real sense of direction.  Max Brotman and Jesse Short are one of the exceptions to this pattern, however.  The fact that they are not only willing to experiment with that template, but also know how to write an actual song, put them head and shoulders amongst the multitude of their peers.

Chondritic Sound

While the opening "Tunnels" at first demonstrates all of those aforementioned clichés, the vocals quickly come in and push things in this punky, catchy direction that is as much Joy Division as Front 242.  "White Gloves" settles into a more conventional pop structure and pace, but with intersecting layers of synth that make for a memorable song that is not just an exercise in dated technology, but one with a distinct rhythmic pulse and melodic feel.

The insistent throb of the title song brings with it a distinct Alan Vega/Martin Rev sneer without ever coming across as if the current duo were trying to sound like anyone but themselves.  A personal favorite is closer "Fell Pastures," which is a fitting, dramatic closer to the album.  It is a bit slower paced, but again is a great and memorable song, not just an attempt at capturing a specific sound or spirit of a past era.  Overall it sounds as if it could be a lost song from Depeche Mode's A Broken Frame, albeit one of the darker tinged ones.

On the four numbered pieces, however, the duo step out of the pop comfort zone and deliver short, yet effective structured experiments with their equipment.  Sparse, yes, but nuanced and varied, and "IV" especially stands out with its liquidy, flowing synths that bring with it tinges of early Skinny Puppy and Cabaret Voltaire.

Like Pure Ground, Jesse Short's project with Chondritic label head Greh Holger, this is music that clearly falls into the current trend of vintage synths and dated drum machines.  However, it is not as hung up on being as sparse and minimal as those artists often are, and instead focuses on a good arrangement of sound.  Simultaneously, there are also good songs to be heard on Distance Unknown.  Not solely interesting sounding synths or drum machine sequences, but catchy, memorable music that captures the era it is emulating, without being unnecessarily weighed down by it.  It is not posturing or just following trends, it has the right amount of nostalgia to conjure a specific, but paired with writing and composition that drives its brilliance home.

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Last Updated on Monday, 01 July 2013 19:44  


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