Review Summary: A gimmick isn't a gimmick when it's a part of your identity.
I'm old enough to remember a time when being a geek wasn't cool. It was a time when knowledge of, and interest in, comic books and Marvel superheroes and all things Star Wars was considered childish immaturity rather than a mark of social wellness. It was a time when wearing a nerdy t-shirt on a date was far more likely to negate any chance of a second date than it was to getting you laid. Model Decoy probably remembers that time too. They were definitely the guys who traded comic books and spent weekends playing D&D. They might have even *gasp* LARPed a time or two (although that might be a bit TOO extreme even for them). Then at some point they realised that they were also really good at making music. Thus, Model Decoy.
Model Decoy is essentially an extension of frontman Doron Monk Flake and guitarist/producer Ari Sadowitz' one-time band—The Smyrk—which combined a smorgasbord of rock sounds from the classic to the post-hardcore with Flake's soulful crooning floating over it. Model Decoy is a similar subgenre-hopping rock band, with a twist—the subject matter of the songs are all incredibly geeky topics. But, before we get to that, let's talk a little bit about the music.
Model Decoy's EP is a rock record, sure enough. Sadowitz' guitar is the central driving force of the album. However, he has a certain restless eclecticism to his style that makes it somewhat difficult to classify. "Oxytocin", for instance, evolves from a mellow lounge-y ballad to a rousing hard rock finale, while "Ciao, Knives" bounces along to a jaunty beat that pays homage to "That Thing You Do" (yes, the song from the Tom Hanks movie). Meanwhile, "Would-Be King" displays shades of post-hardcore, while "Scar-Spangled Banner" is almost grunge-y in its use of loud-soft dynamics. However, while certain sub-genres may inform the sound of each song, there is also an air of almost progressive experimentation throughout the album, as Sadowitz consistently finds interesting and surprising places to take each of the songs, and they never land quite where you expect them to.
This stylistic eclecticism might have gotten a tad tiresome if it wasn't for Flake's vocals glueing everything together. Flake has a simply stunning voice that sounds like a cross between Seal and John Legend and his is not the kind of vocal performance you would expect for a record like this, but it's the kind of performance that makes you wonder why every rock band doesn't have a soul singer fronting it. From the gentle croons of "Oxytocin" to the insistent cajoling of "The Bride" to the desperate pleas of "Would-Be King", Flake doesn't seem to be able to hit an unmemorable note in the entire album. To call this a tour de force
vocal performance would be selling it short. It's the kind of vocal performance that could seemingly sell a million records just by reading random words from a dictionary a capella
But the words aren't random at all. For all the interesting music and glorious vocals on display, perhaps the most fascinating thing about the album are its lyrics. The lyrical subject matter ranges from the biochemistry of love ("Oxytocin"), to pop-culture icons ("Ciao, Knives" and "The Bride"), to stories about Marvel comic characters ("Hearts in Atlantis", "Would-Be King" and "Scar-Spangled Banner"). What might seem, at first glance, like a throwaway gimmick, much like Nerf Herder's anti-classic "Van Halen", turns out to be a heartfelt and genuine paean to geekdom. The lyrics aren't just a series of trite references, but nuanced characterisations of their subjects. For example, "Oxytocin" somehow manages to be both a romantic and biologically accurate description of being in love. Similarly, "Ciao, Knives" is a break-up song that deconstructs the end of a Scott Pilgrim-themed toxic relationship while also being a clever pun. The lyrical depth here is not a product of fleeting trendy fixation on geek-culture but a clearly genuine affection and affinity for it.
The genuine and unselfconscious affection that the album has for its geeky subject matter raises it from a gimmicky and fun diversion to a genuine artistic statement. Of course, the consistently interesting music and the stunning vocal performance don't hurt either. It might be a shame that the music is targeted at a niche audience too small to grant the EP any commercial viability. But if you occupy that niche, you're just going to be immensely glad that someone is actually making music that speaks to you.