Athens, Georgia duo I Am the World Trade Center has succeeded in the midst of tragedy to make the best album of its career. The Cover Up, its third album, breaks new ground musically and lyrically, even while chronicling the end of members Amy Dykes and Dan Geller’s romance. And now, during the band’s promotional tour for The Cover Up, singer Dykes was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system.
The band’s two previous albums, Out of the Loop (released two months before the attacks on New York and Washington, landing them press coverage and heaps of hate-mail) and the 2002 follow up, The Tight Connection, dabbled enjoyably in variations of synth-pop but suffered from a lack of any unifying style. On The Tight Connection, IATWTC flanked the ‘80s with covers of the 1980 Blondie hit “Call Me” and the 1989 Stone Roses single “Shoot You Down.” But neither album created any lasting impression of the band’s influences or aspirations, instead submersing listeners in a pleasant pop haze.
But with The Cover Up, Dykes and Geller stake out some new turf for the band. Although there’s been little change in its overall style, the beats are both catchier and more obviously appropriated from a wide variety of genres. Their third album finally, firmly plants roots in both ‘80s new wave and a wide range of post-millennial club music styles. The Cover Up is musically more ambitious than the band’s previous efforts. Although still primarily rooted in the ‘80s, songs like “Future Sightings”, “The Cover Up”, and “Going Underground” borrow elements from late ‘90s trance, house, and two-step. On “Future Sightings”, especially, Geller has taken the structure of trance, with its drum breaks and staccato synth loops, and created a three-minute radio-friendly dance masterpiece.
Simultaneously, IATWTC borrows from their own discography on a couple of new tracks. The shimmery bass of the opening track “No Expectations” references not only the original Blondie version, but also the band’s cover of “Call Me”, and the melody of “Love Tragedy” hearkens back to “Metro [New York mix]” off Out of the Loop.
Even with some familiar sounds, The Cover Up deals with darker material than its predecessors, which certainly is no surprise considering the events surrounding its birth. On “Love Tragedy”, Dykes sings about just that—the pain of love disappearing. “Future Sightings” chronicles a reunion between two former lovers with a messy history. “Different Stories” spreads the word on how gossip can destroy a relationship.
Although IATWTC is no longer a romantic couple, the musical duo is working even better together on their latest album. Geller, who was primarily the music man for past albums, has been drafted into vocal duties on a few tracks on The Cover Up, with mixed results. On “Different Stories” and “Deny It,” Geller sings from behind a computer-generated fog, and conjures “Some Great Reward”-era Depeche Mode. But on “No Expectations”, Geller’s huffy, inflectionless chant does little to improve an already flawed track. Otherwise, the vocals are flawlessly performed by Dykes, alternating between sultry Debbie Harry purring on “Follow Me” and the petulant self-assuredness of “Deny It”.
Not all is gloom and heartache on The Cover Up. One of the standout tracks on the album, “Going Underground”, takes a seductive two-step beat, mixes in some handclaps and disco bass, and announces a full rejection of mainstream culture. And despite the relative bleakness of the album, IATWTC ends it on a high note. The fantastic rave-up “Rock It” is a great way to close out a fine album. Between the vocodered chant of the chorus, the pounding beat and late Rolling Stones guitars, it’s the kind of track that makes you hope for many future offerings from a band that’s finally hit its stride.