Review Summary: If GLaDOS made electropop...
"The artists formerly known as Games." That addendum, tacked onto every single blog post about Ford & Lopatin's debut full-length, Channel Pressure
, is ungainly, yet it serves as a helpful summarization of what Joel Ford (Tigercity) and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) are trying to do. Yes, the duo's name change was really the result of what Lopatin called a "shwagy situation", but it also indicates a new earnestness in their approach. I liked last year's That We Can Play
EP well enough, but it struck me as slight, almost intentionally so. Not so with Channel Pressure
, which comes complete with actual vocal melodies, that seemingly omniscient album cover, and an extremely loose concept about some dude named Joey Rogers who lives in the year 2082 and has to fight robots in the music industry with MIDI as his only weapon.
Uh...okay, then. But if that was all Ford & Lopatin were working with, we wouldn't have an actual album
so much as a bunch of jokey ideas strung together on MilkyTracker. Thankfully, Channel Pressure
's concept is less about actual storytelling and more about providing some sort of contextual justification for Ford & Lopatin's retro-futurism. On paper, the duo's melding of syrupy '80s soft rock with electronic experimentalism should be right on trend, fitting neatly into the hypnagogic scene that has so taken the indie community by storm in the last couple of years. But the production on songs like "Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me)" is too perfectly polished to be placed alongside Memory Tapes and his ilk. And the vocals here are creepily emotionless, purposefully robotic, acting as the voice of God if God sounded like a male version of GLaDOS. It's genuinely weird, and weirdly successful too, giving the knowingly cheesy melodies a welcome (if superficial) feeling of gravitas. Nothing here is as immediate as, say, "Shadows In Bloom" or "Strawberry Skies", but given that Ford & Lopatin so insistently want Channel Pressure
to be interpreted as an album
, not just a collection of songs, that's to be expected. Besides, the sonic backdrop of Joey's adventure is plenty intoxicating in its heterogeneous nature; layers build upon one another and drop out without warning, beats appear out of nowhere, and flangers are employed liberally.
All of which could have made Channel Pressure
a grating experiment of genre fusion. There are moments here where the duo's use of vintage equipment takes precedence over, well, actual composition, giving off a distinct whiff of "look at us, we're so clever!
" But then they take the cheesiest synthesized "dooba-dooba" vocal patch ever
and place it atop the candy-colored hooks of "World of Regret" and "Surrender", and suddenly the artful pastiche is worth the occasional moment of excess. Certainly, the intricacy of Ford & Lopatin's textures help make Channel Pressure
compelling enough to sustain repeated listening. That's a very good thing, especially given the duo's seeming disregard for writing interesting lyrics - most of the time, they make vague references to the album's concept or express some generic sentiment along the lines of "Big Brother is watching". So instead of hearing the title track's constant repetition of "welcome to the system", I listen for the recurrent flute trill that's a dead ringer for the iconic theme of "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". Which, I'd venture, is a pretty fair trade.