What is it that makes some synth-pop beautiful and some hollow? This is the question before me as I sit down to write this review. One of them, anyway. Another is this: with the technical perfection now very nearly possible in the computer age, how do two people coax different sounds from the same piece of electronic equipment? Of course, I may be showing my age even asking these questions. I learned to love keyboard-driven music in the 1980s, when people were still snotty about it not being “genuine”. But I think that as people of my . . . generation (sweet God) started careers in music, and as you young punks came up listening to ‘em, maybe people stopped wondering about this.
At any rate, these old questions came to me because I was trying to work out why I like Waldeck’s The Night Garden more than I did Slicker’s The Latest. I’ve also recently finished a review of that; with luck, you’ll see it shortly before this one appears.
Waldeck is, I suppose, less “experimental” than Slicker. Which means he writes and plays actual songs instead of the minimalist noise that people like Slicker make. Now, none of this means that Waldeck is a particularly good songwriter. In fact, his lyrics especially (mostly co-written with or written by one B. Slotover) don’t seem to be as well-thought-out as one might hope (“Silver eyes / thrill me with your lies”). This is why people record covers, of course, and Waldeck does so with interesting results. “This Isn’t Maybe” is taken from an old Chet Baker recording, sampling his vocals into a wintery (yet not cheerless), soothing track. “Cat People” by David Bowie is performed in a tense, dub-mix style, and “I Talk to the Wind” is given the poppiest treatment of anything on the record—I smell a single. Elsewhere the music is written, played and arranged with apparent artistry, but it’s a lot of labor to bring forth a mouse.
So why then was my argument at the beginning that The Night Garden was better than The Latest? Because right now Waldeck sounds to me like someone who, a handful of years down the line, will be making better albums. Slicker sounds to me like someone who’s just going to disappear up his own never-you-mind.