Review Summary: Stunning but self-conscious, "Desire" finds Tuxedomoon asking the world if there's any room in it for them.
During an era in which experimental musicians grasped increasingly towards the harsh and synthetic, "Desire" is wrapped instead in the warm, inviting curtains of the theatre. Tuxedomoon lavish luxury on their music, pouring on layer after layer of gorgeous film-score syrup until the songs tip into immersive psychedelia; this in the time of stark, wire-edged musical asceticism, clashes with the vogue and yet results in one of the greatest post-punk albums there ever was.
Instrumentation is not the only unique thing about "Desire": on the barest tune, "Incubus (Blue Suit)", Tuxedomoon employ rattling synths and the motorik beat and still create a perfectly organic atmosphere thanks to the well-judged taste of their arrangements, musically simple yet harmonically special, allowing ever such long notes to loop and cry over the blunt rhythms below. It's amazing just how well they coax new, genre-less music from two-chord dirges like "In the Name of Talent" by unfolding more and more levels of the song until it sounds like Kraftwerk and The Residents jamming side by side, exposing most of their synth-pop and punk contemporaries for making unfinished music, in a way. Every cut on the album is creatively orchestrated and full of variation, converting each basic song's humble beginnings into walls of emotional power.
Vocalists Tong and Reininger half-sing, half-orate stories of exhaustion and suspicion, standing with one foot on the theatrical stage. The lyrics can be repetitious and insistent in places, while on the title track become a veritable data-burst, a stream of consciousness delivered by a man without a concrete place in the world. As for their accompaniment, well, perhaps the rhythm work is the star of the show? Every bass-line fidgets and shuffles, yearning to be elsewhere, each tightly-wound clunk of the instrument jarring like an unsure footstep. Percussion lines feel like they were dropped and then dragged into incorrect positions; whenever you hear the rare sound of the snare drum on this album, it's likely to be camping on an unwelcome beat. Each member of the band is handy with more than just one instrument, a soaring strings-and-horns cipher for the singers who themselves shy away from the most beautiful melodies. Perhaps it is this quirk of arrangement that hammers home to me that "Desire" does not just refer to the base, material necessities but, being as it does an album-out-of-time, is about its more complex role in the world - the desire to belong.