Synthpop duo produces lyrically compelling, instrumentally frustrating third full-length effort
Though they sound like an up and coming rapper, Young Ejecta is anything but. Composed of singer Leanne Macomber, a former member of chillwave pioneers Neon Indian, and producer Joel Ford, one half of electronic music duo Ford and Lopatin, Young Ejecta makes dreamy, gauzy synthpop inspired by the sounds of the 1980’s. The duo made waves with debut album Dominae in 2013, following that up with 2015’s studio LP The Planet. After a five-year hiatus, Young Ejecta is back with another full-length release, 2020’s Ride Lonesome, a homage to ’80s synthpop that, while lyrically compelling, ends up falling a bit flat.
Macomber and Ford rely on a few simple elements throughout the project, namely a grainy, driving bass synth, barebones kick and snare percussion and Macomber’s vocals. While Ford’s production is generally tidy, he doesn’t take many risks with his arrangements, keeping things consistent within and across tracks. But one thing the duo does exceptionally well is tell a story.
Opener “Crayon Cactus” sets the scene for the album’s overarching narrative. Macomber bitterly recounts the destruction of a past relationship, lamenting, “Now I have nothing you didn’t broker/ I have nothing worth going broke for.” The instrumental is simple but compelling, featuring a driving synth line that powers the track forwards. The duo follows this up with the track “Screen Guru,” on which Macomber inadvertently fixates on her lover, seeing him on her phone screen. The beat on this track has a nice bounce to it and features an infectious synth line reminiscent of an ’80s dance club. However, Ford doesn’t really mix up the instrumentation much, resulting in the track feeling stagnant.
On “Four Corners,” Macomber’s desperation is audible. She questions how she can move on from the relationship and why she lost it in the first place, crooning, “How will I ever let go of the one who said “Go”?” But for all of the lyrical cleverness on the song–and there is a lot of it–the arrangement once again feels flat and unexciting. “9 to 5” is a welcome change; Ford adds a bit more oomph to the instrumental with a spaced out piano line and Macomber sounds like a sultry android as her distorted and fuzzy vocals sit on top of the mix, lamenting the hours she feels she wasted with her former lover.
But it’s “Call my Name” that signals a shift in the record’s direction, as Macomber seems to yearn for the love she once had. She pleads to deaf ears, begging her lover to call to her again. A driving synth pushes the track forward, but other than some exciting percussion riffs and some shimmering synths, Ford once again plays it safe with the instrumentation. “AH HA” has perhaps the most engaging mix on the project, buoyed by a dark, moody chord progression, a nasty and bouncy bass synth and some fluttering and dissonant synth accompaniments. The lyrics here are cryptic but the arrangement has a nice progression to it, becoming fuller as the track goes.
In contrast to the somberness of the previous track, “Can I Dance With You” brings the euphoria of classic ’80s synthpop. The mix is well balanced and the song really opens up during its chorus, allowing all of the different sounds to shine. Later on, a synth riff adds a tinge of sadness, while Macomber urges herself to forget her pain and share one last moment of joy with her lover. “Cheese” feels like the definitive conclusion of the album’s central relationship. Macomber questions whether her love was real or whether it was forced this whole time, emoting heavily over Ford’s arrangement, which once again, feels safe and uninteresting at times.
But Ford redeems himself on album closer “Ranger Danger,” a morose, sonically complex eulogy to Macomber’s failed relationship. Ford drifts a little from the ’80s synth sounds on the rest of the album, deploying some ambient-sounding synths in their place, as well as some ’80s synth accompaniments and a beat that feels like one’s heart is skipping one. The chords have a bittersweet feel as Macomber regretfully emotes, “I met you in the worst way/ You were a man, and I was a girl in the dark.” Lyrically and sonically, “Ranger Danger” feels like a fitting conclusion to the album’s narrative.
On the whole, Ride Lonesome is frustrating. On the one hand, Young Ejecta succeed on many fronts, with their compelling lyrics and narrative, spot-on ’80s style instrumentation and unwavering consistency. But the album’s production, while neat, is not adventurous in the slightest. Many tracks feel flat or repetitive, with very few changes in the arrangement within each track. Young Ejecta show huge promise lyrically and are great at keeping things coherent but Ride Lonesome ultimately does not offer up much in the way of originality.