Gleaming Synthetic Pop Paced by Drum Machines
The Black Neon, mainly electro-mastermind Steve Webster of Fort Lauderdale (the band, not the beach town), is quite possibly named for a Kraftwerk track (“Neon Lights”), and may have copped the title and feel for its opening cut “Ode to Immer Wieder” from a Neu! song called “Für Immer”. In this, his first full length, Webster works with krautrock heavyweight Falk U. Rogner of Amon Düül. He even starts off the listener friendly “Ralph and Barbara” with a Teutonic “ein, zwei, fier, funf” (what happened to “drei”?). In fact, if Webster was any more pro-German, his kids would be inquiring what daddy did in the war. Still, for all the reverence Webster shows towards 1970s krautrock, his disc Arts & Crafts is a surprisingly fluid, surprisingly current excursion into synth-heavy, rhythm-based territories.
The CD breaks down relatively evenly into pop-centric songs and pulsating instrumental grooves. At their best, the verse/chorus structured songs have the lackadaisical whimsy of good Blur tunes, semi-sensical lyrics backed with shimmering instrumental textures and insistent forward-pushing beats. (Falsetto-funky “The Truth” sounds especially Blur-like, but “TX81z” isn’t far off either.) Then there’s “Ralph and Barbara”, an offhand ditty about a German model and her boyfriend, their desired escape to the Yucatan… and not much else. Still, its combination of Beatles-pop literacy and shuffling rhythm, jangling guitars, and bursts of sudden synthetic strings is nearly irresistible. It’s the sort of song that is at once lazy and propulsive, moving you forward through radiant keyboard breaks and dreamy, sunny verses with its slacked out bass/drum shuffle.
The pop songs are fine, but the disc’s real strength comes in the instrumentals, not just the gleaming, pulsing, space-rock opening (“Ode to Immer Wieder”), but the lysergic, synth-washed, gorgeous “Infinity Pool”, as well. “Hollywood 1,2,3” pairs translucent textures of keyboard with a beat that stretches as far as the eye can follow, its bubbling keyboard flourishes sounding a bit like Harmonia, but its warm guitar solos anchoring the cut firmly in the rock.
Some of the cuts here flirt with new age-i-ness. The slack funk “Shoot Me Into Space” needs more adrenaline, and “Cast That Light” reaches for drama with its choirs of angels backing, but falls seriously short. Still, you can’t seriously complain about an album that closes with “The Exit”, a droning, mesmeric dirge laced with evil twitches of wah wah and menacing bass. With this cut on repeat, you could drive forever, past desert sands and deep blue seas, and never miss your exit.
// Notes from the Road
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