The male/female electronica duo seems to be more than a trend in music today– it’s practically a new paradigm itself. Breakout groups like The Knife sparked the movement in the early 2000’s and contemporaries like Roman Remains keep it alive today. Their sound is a little pop and a little industrial; it’s the darker side of dance.
Originally conceived as a side project of Liela Moss and Toby Butler of The Duke Spirit, Roman Remains is now gaining steam with Zeal, the group’s first full-length release. The sound is more on the goth side than many of their contemporaries, with intense grinding synth lines and heavy percussion providing the platform for Moss’s vocals, and the two counterpoint each other nicely throughout the album. “This Stone is Starting to Bleed” opens the record, a stilted dance floor sing-along that inspires a weird kind of synesthesia by sounding almost exactly like a strobe light.
A dark and sexy vibe pervades the album, with the alternating harmony and discord between Moss and Butler continuously pitting hard against soft, eventually melding the two. To that end, Zeal hits its mark well enough. However, the album’s main flaw seems to be a kind of melodic immaturity. There are plenty of catchy refrains, such as the anthemic “Tachycardia,” but the spaces in between those high moments often feel clumsy and out of place.
“Agrimony” starts off on a high note with minimal instrumentals, giving Moss a chance to shine. She shows a range and dynamism that’s almost operatic, an outstanding and unexpected moment on the album. Yet, the song is nearly ruined by its chorus, a fist-pumping refrain that is so banal and goofy that it just comes across as bland. Several songs suffer from this same problem. The pieces just don’t seem to fit together. “Gazebo” is another near winner that trips over itself and comes up short.
All the ingredients for a good record are present on Zeal, but they just haven’t been put together quite right. It will be interesting to see what Roman Remains can come up with in the future, but this definitely won’t be the record fans look back on as a great full-length debut.