Joel Peterson has already made a name for himself, sort of, as a guitarist for the Faint, the producer of several remixes for Of Montreal and AFI, and card-carrying member of Omaha’s Saddle Creek music scene. His solo project, Broken Spindles, began as a multimedia project with hints of Postal Service-pop, but has benefited from the tedium and general revulsion to touring, recording, and being in a band with, well, other people.
Four albums into the solo thing, Kiss/Kick abandons the instrumental and goes full-bore into self-deprecating singer-songwriter mode. Peterson’s minimal, new wave-y pop tunes address insecurity, loneliness, fear and isolation—worthy subject matter, but much better handled by the likes of Bradford Cox. Not only does Kiss/Kick display inferior New Order-esque pop, but it sounds like a less exciting version of the Faint’s more danceable tunes. Without the fuzzy basslines, Broken Spindles come off a bit sleepy and plodding. I never thought I’d ever actually want to hear the Faint so badly.
A better parallel to the new Broken Spindles sound might be New Zealand’s hazy dance-pop act Shocking Pinks. That artist’s superb self-titled 2007 release succeeded at melding together minimal aspects to create a one-man new wave apparatus. In comparison, the instruments on Kiss/Kick exist separate from one another—a quality that embodies the worst aspects of laptop pop. Instead of creating a soft soundscape, the effort comes off as piecemeal.
There are moments when Peterson’s new wave inclinations pay small dividends. “We All Want to Fit In” supplies sparse guitar with a verse-and-hook before the drum machine theatrics kick in—but by this time we’re already sold. “Figure Face Pretty Man” features a driving bass line throughout, and intermittently hits a decent stride on all fronts. But these moments of cohesion are fleeting and not compelling enough to propel Broken Spindles from its side-project status.
Of course, Peterson’s stated purpose with Kiss/Kick is to emphasize the loneliness and desolation of touring. Apparently, there may be some tension between this artist and the rest of the Faint crew; song titles such as “Introvert” drive this point home. But instead of oozing sincerity these track feel sort of detached. It’s not enough to say that you’re isolated and alone—you need to actually convince me. These emotions feel manufactured and peppered with cheesy synth beats.
So Joel Peterson’s new-and-improved side project still resembles a guitarist experimenting in between what is probably his more important job. The sad part is that Broken Spindles seems to be well-intentioned, with Peterson trying to penetrate the downside of his full-time gig. I want to empathize with his quest to find meaning in the relentless toil of working with ‘the group’. The subject matter is red meat, but Kiss/Kick just doles out leftovers.
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