Review Summary: When Roosevelt hits home, he does so with a delightful subtlety only present in well-crafted pop music.
Marius Lauber is a hard-working labourer. Judging from his past releases under his moniker Roosevelt, his craft has been a learning curve of how to squeeze the most of variety out of a pre-established aesthetic. Roosevelt's field of operation is the vague area between disco-pop, chillwave and electronic music; fusing guitar chops and acoustic percussion with synthesizers. It is very much an emulation of house music with analogue means – the cuts from the Elliot EP were essentially electronic tracks driven by Lauber’s own drumming, with his voice usually being shrouded in ubiquitous delay and reverb. The EP’s centerpiece “Sea”, Roosevelt's first release, set the tone for what was to come later on: Balearic, hazy electro-analogue pop, with a paradoxically careless, cheery, but also melancholic vibe.
“Sea” is the only of those songs to be featured on Roosevelt’s self-titled debut album, and in its haziness, it sticks out remarkably on a record that is dominated by polished, traditional songcraft. By the release of 2015 single “Night Moves”, Roosevelt had torn down the veil of sonic hide-and-seek. In a track that channels a fair bit of 90s disco groove from Spiller’s hit single “Groovejet”, Lauber brings his voice to the fore without giving up on any of the melancholia present in his earlier work. “There’s no reason to hide / You know the night moves on and on”, Lauber sings, and with little words he delivers an introvert’s party anthem in one of the album’s highlights.
Enlisting a live band consisting of a bass player and a drummer allowed Lauber to focus on his role as a singer and guitarist, and in the years leading up to the recording of the album, Roosevelt’s shows became less and less centered on synthesizers and keys. On stage, Roosevelt now virtually present as a three-piece rock band, which also audibly influenced the inception of tracks like “Hold On” and “Wait Up” – both songs revolve around funky guitar and bass riffs, deriving significant rhythmical drive out of these parts instead of leaning on the sophisticated, but ultimately simplistic beats Roosevelt employs.
As much as Lauber’s self-imposed agenda “to write songs that could be played on a piano” shines through in more traditional vocal arrangements and song structures, his coordinate system as a producer still revolves around balancing and contrasting the dreamy, melancholic and uplifting elements of his music – washed-out pads and meandering arpeggiators, lyrical beacon imagery, and driving beats. Where Lauber tweaks this interplay, he creates outliers that give the album a slight stylistic variety – the up-tempo, straight setup of drums and bass in “Heart” gives the song an unexpected Killers-like drive, whereas in “Moving On”, he drenches the bass in reverb and thus sets the mood for the track, getting the rest of the job done with a selection of cloudy synthesizer sounds and a surprise saxophone cameo.
On other parts of the album, the more radio-friendly approach Roosevelt aims for noticeably bends his creative forces; in some way though, he usually manages to squeeze an ultimately pleasing tune out of the narrow formula those tracks follow. Lead single “Colours” might sound as if it was composed of set pieces from older songs, but its effective execution makes it hard to resist the song’s simple charm. “Fever” does not fare so well, packing a number of potent hooks in an overly streamlined structure. When Roosevelt sings “Get back to where we used to lie / We got lost inside our mind”, he alludes to a vague yearning and daydreaming, but what will resonate with well-disposed radio listeners will most likely be his plea to “bring back the fever again”. It is hard to hold that against Roosevelt – never has Lauber intended to shake up the foundations of either club or pop music. When his music hits home though, it does so with a delightful subtlety only present in well-crafted pop music.