Just Can’t Get Enough
New Build is an electronic music side project consisting of two-fifths of London dance-punk outfit/LCD protégés Hot Chip, namely guitarist and vocalist Al Doyle and percussionist Felix Martin. Their sophomore release, 2014’s Pour It On showcases remnants of the glistening, upbeat danceability that scored Doyle and Martin’s principal group a coveted spot on James Murphy’s DFA Records, along with a solid following. However, the album is primarily anchored in the bleak yet fleetingly catchy dirges of early 80’s proto-synth pop of groups like The Human League, Kraftwerk and Can.
Don’t let the absence of a sugary coat and references to older electronic groups scare you away, though, because Pour It On is irrefutably accessible. The album isn’t the dense and heady affair implied its pro-excess title, nor is it the technologically updated, pristinely computerized mix of disco and R&B that defined Hot Chip’s latest effort, In Our Heads. Despite the fact that the music of Pour It On is comprised primarily of synthesizers and drum machines, the beats have a certain heft to them that this subgenre of pop music hasn’t seen or even felt in decades. When New Build aren’t using their miniKorgs as direct conduits to the demigods of Krautrock as in the analog synth drones of opener “The Sunlight,” the strongest, most identifiable influence comes the synth-pop grooves of fellow Englishmen Depeche Mode.
And talk about identifiable influence. With its clanging chorus of bell percussion sounds and tasteful use of the vocoder (you know, relative to the state of music in 1985), “Strange Network” would sound at home on Black Celebration or even Music For The Masses if you merely swapped out Doyle’s insistent, nasally chirp for David Gahan’s velvety Victorian baritone. “Your Arrival” is a bouncing lurch of a track punctuated by bursts of atmospheric bleeps that mirrors the rhythm of incoming telegraph pioneered in Depeche songs like “Blasphemous Rumors” and “Strangelove.” It’s not all binary codes, shimmery keyboards and artistic crooning though. In “Luminous Freedom” the dismal, claustrophobic cloud of echoing vocal layers gives way to an infectious dance beat at the precise moment that it seems like the electrical storm of noise will go on forever. The song even features a real bass guitar for a bit of New Order-style post-punk flavor.
Though the words that accompany the synthesizer soundscapes of Pour It On lean more toward the realm of abstract for most of the record, the gritty, modernist lyrical content of “Weightless” (“The kids, twelve and five/ and there’s less money coming in now / Everything that’s happened since the separation”) rounds out the poignant immediacy that the track’s staccato bass line creates, while echoing vocal effects conjure an image of the speaker standing helplessly alone in a large, empty room. Ironic that such rock bottom defeatism makes for Pour It On’s highest, most triumphant point.
With Pour It On, New Build craft what amounts to a thoroughly enjoyable and consistent technological update on a tried and true synth-pop formula. The group’s second offering has some great dance tunes with enough stellar, enveloping moments to more make up for Pour It On’s professed lack of true innovation.