Frosty Synthpop Searching for Human Warmth
After repeated listens through this record, it is striking how much of the album’s aesthetic and direction are telegraphed to the listener within the first thirty seconds of the opening track, “Sucker’s Shangri-La.” The echo drenched guitar line, swelling synth minor chords and mechanical Kraftwerk-esque drums evoke visions of Miami circa 1984; a fever dream of pastel neon and Don Johnson look-alikes, and Dead Head stickers on Cadillacs. It is beautiful but plastic, glistening yet cold.
Jana Hunter’s smoky contralto voice, reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde or PJ Harvey, gives the record a mournful, torch-song quality. Hunter’s vocal abilities are simply astounding. There is a fullness and depth that claw for your attention. One is prone to losing focus on the lyrics, instead paying attention to the sonic quality of the voice.
As searing and searching as the lyrics may be, there is a coldness to the treatment, the emotional energy and force of passion are filtered out. Hunter takes on the air of an icy chanteuse, singing songs about love from a remove, presenting a glossy emotionless visage. Whether this is an unintentional result of the recording process or a considered artistic choice is hard to say. It is not hard to imagine that when playing live, the audience’s energy helps melt through some of the frost.
With the dispassionate quality of the vocals and the synthetic sound of the band, the attempt for emotional impact in “Your Heart Still Beating” and “I am the Earth” falls flat. Not enough feeling leaks through the facade to give the songs the gravitas they seem to be going for. That said, the previously mentioned “Sucker’s Shangri-La” along with tracks “To Die in L.A.,” “Non Grata,” and “Company,” more than make up for any shortcomings on the album.