A Very Efficient Break-Up
Ever wonder what it would be like if a Fjällräven Kånken backpack learned how to boogie and then got its heart broken? Listening to the mature, emotionally organized Dave Depper contextualize exactly what went wrong in his relationship paints a picture of how something so aesthetically clean can be even more tragic in context. This Portlandian allows vulnerability to peek out through the cracks of restraint on his new album, Emotional Freedom Technique, kindly allowing listeners into his neo-retro nerd mind — ultimately, to better understand their own relationships by learning from the robot that learned how to feel again. However, one must ask, emotional freedom from what?
Starting off with the comfort of “Do You Want Love?” everything seems to have its place. Depper’s aesthetic is refined, existing as a fully fleshed-out orchestration of LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean.” It is the sound of a geek who has completely worked out what sounds maximize pleasure while still remaining stylishly distant. The synth solo on “Do You Want Love?” provides this sweet spot of just enough texture — but not so much as to feel overindulgent — making the brain light up in response. This technique alone, though, a compelling album does not make. Depper himself presents the first problem by stating, through this perfection, that he’s not sure what love means anymore. If someone is asking for it, what is he supposed to give? These topics meet reality in the outro of the song, where dissonance begins to creep in over a droning alarm-like repetition. It paints a picture of Depper’s spaceship rushing from suspending contently amongst zero gravity to crash landing on an unfamiliar planet. His heart has been broken. And now, Depper must face a human challenge that is not on the advanced millennial’s schedule: survival.
Thankfully, our narrator is mature and smart, so learning from his approach to survival is key. He begins by exploring the initial problem presented by “Do You Want Love?” and explores why he didn’t feel love, instead of denying everything flat out. “Communication” reads as a poignant critique of technological interaction as simply a carbon copy of the real thing — one problem that prevents love from blossoming. Depper asks more questions in addition to the first: “Am I wasting your time? Are you wasting mine? And is it ever alright to lie?” He then graphs out what kind of love he wants on “Your Voice on the Radio,” with his loneliness being bolstered by his unrequited affection for love songs, speaking of an emotional connection he has yet to experience.
But this idea of emotionally entangled perfection is, again, brought to reality on “Never Worked So Hard In My Life,” where Depper begins to finally embrace strangely messy auditory drama and anger. He realizes that his hard work isn’t yielding that aforementioned perfection. The phrase “you’ve never worked a day in your life” is given extraordinary new depth, as its flipped from a term often levied against young people for not actually putting the man-hours into their careers, now against Depper’s ex for not working on maintaining emotional connection. Through this criticism, Depper finds both where he and his ex went wrong, and, even if the process hurts, learns hard lessons about himself that will just make him stronger in the end.
It’s a simple lesson, just like many of the songs on Emotional Freedom Technique are simple love songs akin to those of Paul McCartney or “It Only Hurts” by Brazzaville. But, the strikingly perfect electronic presentation presents the true tragedy of someone dreaming of such a simplistic love, realizing that it doesn’t have an algorithm. Analog sounds creep in throughout the album, like the pedal steel-sounding guitar on “Lonely With You,” providing unexpected references to lonely cowboys, culminating in the final build on “Hindsight/Emotional Freedom Technique.” There is also the full-sounding set drum and distorted guitar that contrast the evenly-divided chords and drum tracks. At first creating a unique style, these analog sounds grow to represent Depper’s acceptance of the feelings that don’t quite fit, as he finds beauty in them. Depper learns to embrace small imperfections on this album, teaching technologically-integrated young people to follow their confusing melancholy instead of obliterating it. And, just maybe, through this technique, emotional freedom from past hurt, and freedom to feel unabashed love in future relationships rests on the other side.