You gotta feel bad for any artist with the unfortunate fate of being labeled “electroclash”. First, its ‘80s predecessors, who rode the Wave when it was New, have been mined and pillaged for their precious and few pop-friendly gems. So long Section 25 and Prefab Sprout—hello a never-ending slew of decade compilations that posture as if “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” were the only songs worth dancing to between 1981 and 1986. And today, thanks to self-proclaimed mastermind Larry Tee (the genre’s answer to Malcolm McLaren) and a wagonload of hype (particularly in the New York City media), the term gets tossed around to just about any band that gives just as many props to their synth player as they do to their guitar player (if they have one). As if this wasn’t bad enough, the current ‘80s revival in other aspects of culture currently has a sweetheart in the loving arms of post-punk and garage rock, preventing the slew of electronic artists the chance to parallel their forefathers as the soundtrack to these chaotic, Reaganesque times.
On such an uncertain playing field, what will come of a well-behaved band like Soviet? Having patiently existed in various permutations since 1995, this year marks the reissue of the rare 2001 debut from the fivesome (who have been dubbed by some as the most significant electro-pop band post-Fischerspooner), and damn it, their poised to succeed! They’ve played the right festivals (formerly mentioned Mr. T’s Electroclash affair last year), gained exposure in the right magazines (Paper, Vice, etc.), and had tracks on the right compilations (alongside, you guessed it, Fischerspooner). The stars may not be smiling on electroclash yet, but just you wait, Henry Higgins! When the time comes for the world (outside of downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, preferably on radio) to recognize this music, Soviet will be leading the way, a veritable juggernaut, an electro-sensation.
One problem, though. We Are Eyes, We Are Builders already came out. No, I’m not talking in 2001—more like in 1981, by Depeche Mode, when it was called Speak and Spell. Or maybe it was released by Ultravox, or OMD. What Soviet has created is an album so authentic to its ‘80s roots that it more often than not sounds like it could have come out in that era. And with such sheer duplicative tendencies, it probably should have.
You won’t find a bad song per se of the 12 on We Are Eyes, We Are Builders, but you also may not remember a single one once it’s through. Beginning with “Commute”, a cold, angular number that seems to have gears, the Soviet thesis becomes clear: technological isolation, urban alienation, and electronic relation, all communicated through digitized noises and high-speed rhythms that would have sounded ahead of their time twenty years ago. Keith Ruggiero’s vocals affect a future-shocked automation, while the instrumentation buzzes with laptop loops, mechanized drum beats, and synth, synth, synth. “Commute” slides seamlessly into the danceable curiosity of “Circuit Love”, which then rides into the album’s two “singles”—“Marbleyezed” and “Candy Girl”. All three are robotic odes to passion—like love songs two computers might write to one another—and manage to be simultaneously dispassionate and saccharine. Yes, Soviet has done something amazing here—created an album that sounds so much like something loveable, while managing to deliver it in a way that’s absolutely mundane.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying homage to musical eras gone by—and creators of the best music have an absolute awareness for what made their sound possible. And there’s also nothing wrong with the ironic or self-conscious throwback to sounds of yesterday. But there’s a difference between respecting things past and repeating them verbatim. Especially in a class of musicians that are finding creative ways to reinvent the synthesizers, electronic sounds, and “futurism”, Soviet are rehashing well worn, and frankly, easy territory. And when more people are to pay attention to the innovations that electroclash artists have to offer, let’s hope that they’re paying to artists who actually have something new to offer them, as opposed to songs that sound like they should have been on some Totally ‘80s compilation.