Review Summary: Electronics take on espionage.
It's not very hard to figure out how SPIES
got its name. Mere moments after the initial and distinct (dare I say iconic?) leading bass into to "Civil Disobedients," a tense synthesizer brings in cold, harsh tones that harken back to the frigid outdoors of a James Bond thriller and continue their operations in clandestine format as Vox Mod, Jason Jordan, and Kyle Porter stagger the dense layering of more positive-sounding instruments on the opener. Of course, if the subtleties of the album opener's relations to the world of covert operations are lost on you, in-your-face follow-up "Panopticon" dials the intrigue up to 11 with cool, yet rapid basslines, electronic leads, and even alarms that scream "Mission: Impossible."
While the whole album isn't just a steel briefcase full of C4 and top secret information, the concept is a solid one and the themes are so impressive and enjoyable that it makes you wonder why more bands haven't pursued the spy angle (maybe everyone really just thought ska played it out in the '90s?). In any case, SPIES
makes good on its secret agent efforts, with "Project Midnight Climax" sounding like the sunglasses peeled straight from a beachside Bond's face and the background drone and contrastingly light piano of "Everyone's Almost Human" casting a vent-crawling theme of infiltration and espionage. Honestly, songs like "Race the Sun" and "Make Science" feel like they could be bonus tracks to everyone's favorite console spy shooter, Goldeneye
- which is really a treat for those of us that grew up trying to slap the hat off of Oddjob's head. Meanwhile, "Los Desaparecidos" plays up the exotic locale angle of the spy genre, incorporating Spanish and Eastern sounds and themes to carry the cat and mouse game into the heart of Tijuana or Monte Carlo, shifting from the primary electronics of much of the album to a track colored by the exotic woodwinds and rhythms of a bazaar or sandy street corner.
Tracks like "The Wave" and "Old Friends" are harder to justify into the spy theme, though the latter feels more like a fond memory of a respected rival from another agency, containing some mild base-level tension, but mostly soaring over it like a majestic synthesizer rocket as Lazer Kitty are wont to do (see previous efforts MOONS
). "The Wave," on the other hand, while still a brilliantly composed track full of Lazer Kitty's unique brand of introducing instruments and gradually reaching an incredible, booming crescendo, sparks less of a spy image in my mind and more of a correlation to previous space-themed blast-off tracks such as RUINS
' "Revolutions Per Minute."
flow together as well as MOONS
and tends to feel a little long, it's still refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable to hear this oft-forgotten palate of music played by musicians who clearly display an intricate knowledge of how to build theme, emotion, and tension into an electronic sound that often gets flak for omitting these elements. Really, for the expertise Lazer Kitty have shown on all three of their LPs (and their numerous live and improvised recordings), it's hard to conceive of a day where their take on meshing human strings and percussion with synthesizers and electronics will lose its appeal, though it's also easy to admit that SPIES
is a welcome, if unexpected change of pace from its cosmic predecessors. Over the course of these three albums, however, it's become clear that Lazer Kitty have developed a signature sound - one that should have no time captivating your attention, whether it's in the stars above or on the battlefield of minds and lies we dwell in unknowingly every day.