When These People Press Play, the Sandman Is a Comin’
So watery, amorphous, and lulled, People Press Play is a perfect album to fall asleep to. Faint praise? Unavoidably yes. Several tours of this self-titled debut reveal that the ambient Danish foursome of People Press Play didn’t strive for much beyond the sounds of solitude and slumber. It’s a consistent but sophomorically effete aesthetic. What this synthesis of washed-out texture, loopy beats, and granular atmospherics produces is a drowsy background, neither compelling nor catchy.
It’s difficult to parse a collection as stylistically mute and repetitious as People Press Play. The ten entries here so amorphously bleed into one another as to be anonymous. The sandy electronica of “Girl” and “Everything” are the same side of the same coin. Both unfold deliberately, even inoffensively, with overcast swirls, ripples, and blips ambling on to non-descript ends. The set-up, follow-through, and destination don’t spring from each other, vis a vis ideal progression, as much as they blend into one ossified whole.
The moods are similarly non-starting. A ghostly, mechanical grayness wants to dominate part of the album’s canvass. But the driftless, often insouciant arrangements can’t imprint the fullness of any sentiment or aura. The static ebb of “Studio” is just an exercise in computerized dryness, and not the witching-hour comedown its details desired to conjure up. “Before Me” works with an admirable contrast of brittle click ’n’ clack and airy vocals, intentionally aiming at imprecise ambiguity. But its sputters and various up-and-down effects are too disjointed to forge even an inscrutable tone. Only on “That Walk”, the album’s one shining moment, do the sonics forcefully push for palpable tension—it’s ominous, eerie, and, best of all, a fully-realized creation.
I shouldn’t leave the impression that People Press Play just composes electronic instrumentals. Three of the members—Anders Remmer, Jesper Skaaning, and Thomas Knak—account for the songcraft while Sara Savery supplies the breathy, wafer-light vocals. This inclusion amounts to little, substantively. Savery’s delivery is as languid as its surroundings, more operating as a layer of skimpy texture than as an anchor for melody. She’s too unassertive on “Always Wrong” to imbue the track with resonant melancholy; it’s just a rainy affair. The lyricism too is abrupt, repetitive, and non-specific, injecting filler sounds where perhaps some narrative heft was needed.
Or perhaps she’s part of the problem rather than just an ancillary bystander to a greater miscalculation? Without Savery, the fluid soundscapes of People Press Play could have functioned as a suite akin to a cinematic score—overly regularized, yes, but at least of the same conceptual mind. With her intermittent vocals, so adrift and detached from a distinct framework, that unity evaporates.
It’s difficult to say one way or the other, but, certainly, this debut requires more than simple cosmetic touch-ups to reach a serious standard of ambient pop. The limitations seem self-imposed. People Press Play mustered up such an intentionally inhibited spectrum of emotion, mood, and sonics to craft the aural likeness of a withdrawn comedown. The results, short on vitality and vivid coloration, are all too much of a sleepy letdown.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.