"Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." - 2 Corinthians, 5:17
In the life cycle of pop culture, everything will come back around. Like the wheel of fortune, certain moods and styles will rise and fall as sure as the roulette wheel will ride on black.
Early, archaic electronic music forms have been finding favor with modern ears for most of the 21st century, thanks to the information explosion of the Internet and a general fatigue with the exclusively digital. People are digging through crates of old electro, early hip-hop and early house and techno, finding many tasty gems and morsels in the process.
Consider "Stranger Things" the recent hyper-popularity sci-fi/horror series on Netflix from Stephen King and George Lucas. It takes all the tropes and styles of early '80s sci-fi/horror blockbusters, like E.T. and Firestarter, and polishes them to the realm of fine art. Likewise, many old, antiquated, obscure horror soundtracks have been enjoying a second life in lavish, upscale boutique editions.
It's clear we're analyzing the past, trying to make sense of the present, perhaps to have some prayer of predicting the future. It's a great time to come across The Feel EP from English-by-way-of-Wellington-New-Zealand artist Tony McDonald, playing under the producer moniker PlasticGroove.
The Feel EP is a glory of cinematic, plasticine synths and clipped, rigid beats, which are given a beating heart via guest vocalist Huia's silken vocals. PlasticGroove normally works in a kind of somber, dark-wave format, but the sound is updated to a more upbeat synth-pop with Huia on board. It's a good look, despite some minor blemishes.
"Before The Last Act" sets the cinematic tone with swelling MIDI strings, that sounds like the title sequence to a grainy ‘80s horror film on VHS. It also brings to mind the virtual horror soundtracks of infamous haunt attraction mainstay The Midnight Syndicate, which says a lot about the charms of this short EP, as well as who it will appeal to. If you're looking for some synthetic, horror-ish ambiance to set the mood without chilling the blood, you're likely to dig The Feel EP.
The following track and Huia's vocal debut "Monsters Going To Get Me" also suggests what is great about this EP, as well as outlining some of its shortcomings. The upbeat, bouncy synth-pop suits PlasticGroove well, bringing a kind of Postal Service bounce, while still featuring some bleak, middle-of-the-night lyrics. The only downside is the incongruity between the virtual instruments and the vocals. Beats, synth strings and plastic pianos all seem to exist in their own space, each one vying for the foreground. It's a common shortcoming of digital/analog hybrids, which require some technical wizardry to get everything working together.
Basically, at times, PlasticGroove sounds like the audio equivalent of early CGI. It's as authentic as a green screen, and the actor's reactions as they pantomime to imaginary battles and illusionary struggles. It's something that every producer needs to contend with at this stage in the game, and a little more time in the mixing/mastering department will iron out these wrinkles, at which point PlasticGroove will likely be primed for total takeover.
It's hardly a criticism, however, as PlasticGroove's rigid beats and funky electro arpeggios bring to mind all that was great and exploratory about late '70s/early '80s electronica. Personality, musicality and something distinctive to say. At the end of the day, that's really what counts, no matter what style of music you're making.
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