Still waiting to biodegrade
Disco Synthesizers & Daily Tranquilizers, the seventh album from Belgian producer Arne Van Petegem, continues a trend initiated on 2008’s A Thousand Words. One could say that Van Petegem, who goes by Styrofoam, now puts more faith in people than in his laptop.
Styrofoam’s latest not only features other musicians—including Devo drummer Alan Myers, who plays on final track “Believe Everything”—it’s also the second time he has shared producing credits with Wally Gagel, one half of L.A. production team WAX LTD, which has worked with artists as varied as Folk Implosion and Nick Lachey.
The result of Van Petegem’s still recent turn towards collaboration with flesh-and-blood musicians is ten somewhat moody tracks, a curious mixture of indie rock and electronica. Styrofoam hasn’t entirely eschewed the clicks, bleeps, and whooshes that only superior software can ensure: just check out the muffled “heartbeat” and Auto-Tuned vocals on “The Only One To Curse.”
The standout cut is “Extra Careful,” where the overheated emotions are complimented by an equally overheated guitar solo. “Spike-heeled shoes explain a lot of untrained motions./ We keep on squirming forward,” sings guest vocalist Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World.
When Styrofoam’s strategy succeeds, his songs are reminiscent of New Order, a seminal band adept at yoking forlorn emotions to the cold logic of synthesizers. Unfortunately, his ambition is greater than his reach. “Kids On Acid,” for example, whips up a frenzy but goes nowhere. Most puzzling of all, it’s hard to discern what Sex Pistol’s drummer Paul Cook adds to the song.
Every welcoming gesture towards our fellow human beings should be encouraged. In that sense, Van Petegem is to be applauded. For the time being, however, this former denizen of Berlin’s electronica scene is still buried under the artificial layering of his Styrofoam persona.