Winterbrief: Tickets for a Peek

[23 September 2004]

By Jason Thompson

A Peek is More Than Enough

OK, so the first thing I think—make no mistake, this is the very first think I think—when putting this Winterbrief CD into my player and pressing play is, “Oh my God, it’s another Freezepop, only worse”. I haven’t gotten around that initial thought. I’ve played this disc enough times to shake that first feeling, but it just won’t go away. I wanted to get into this group the way others have, and really enjoy all the fey irony of Winterbrief’s sound, replete with cheeseball Casio tones and beeps, static vocals, and faux techno-cum-dancefloor histrionics, but it was no use. These guys (well, guy and girl technically) really do sound like the bastard spawn of the more popular and successful (and cheeseball keyboard-infused) Freezepop.

They come from Philly. They are “Jan and Julian.” They make electronic pop music for idiotic robots who are still waxing about how groovy the Atari 800 XL really is. No, really, baby. Haven’t you heard? It’s time to dust off that $20 keyboard from Radio Shack that Aunt Gertie bought you twenty years ago because she heard everyone was into those things, and pity you wanted one of those Rolands but this is how it goes with Aunt Gertie. Little did you know that in the new millennium a clutch of groups would stumble upon the silly notion of Casiocore and take it to all-new heights. It could all possibly be traced back to Wesley Willis, but even his whacked-out autochord opuses are so incredibly not ironic that it makes all other attempts seem dismally pointless.

I suppose my greatest question here is: why all the remixes? Half the album’s tracks are remixed. Are they better than the originals? Damned if I know. Is this a sign that Winterbrief is already out of ideas? Possibly. Seems likely, given that they’ve been around since 1998. I know I’m supposed to laugh along with vocalist Jan as she drones out “I Want To Be Sexy” in a pop tart voice while Julian interjects “Christina Aguilera, Christina Aguilera” over and over, but it’s not happening. The bass line sounds like a regurgitated remnant of ABBA’s “Does Your Mother Know?” minus any of the hook.

If that’s not good enough for you, then there’s yet another remix of the song that makes it even more annoying with a lame rap sandwiched within the layers that alternately reminds me of a diluted Chumbawamba and the already-diluted Ace of Base (thanks for leaving a permanent scar on my eardrums, Joker). Hmm, that makes two counts of Swedish pop being cited here. Too bad Winterbrief can’t live up to either relation.

I get the feeling, though, that the remixes are here to beef up the weak Winterbrief sound. Compared to the “new” tracks here, a number of the remixes are indeed a bit beefier, but that doesn’t necessarily make them enjoyable. After all, it’s not always easy to turn trash into treasure, and nowhere is this more on display than the instantly annoying “machine mix by the guy who invented fire” remix of “Art-Loft Rebel”. Silly industrial machine samples clang away while a washed out fuzzy bass synth grinds itself into oblivion, and the whole track comes off like a monotonous Warner Brothers cartoon sample dipped into the pits of Hell.

The whole calculatedly cold pose of the group, on track after track like “Scratch The Itch” and “Sore Losers, Sour Grapes” (the latter approximating some of the dinkiest Happy Hardcore ever heard), gets instantly old after the first listen. If this group is seriously trying to stake an ironic yet fun take on the whole electronic music genre, then they’ve missed by a mile. Yeah, I get that some folks out there really eat up musical irony such as this, but my own hipness quotient is in check well enough to not buy into the act. I’ve been around long enough to know that the whole post-Casio sound isn’t ironic or very good for that matter. I’ll at least give it to Freezepop that their brand of this mess has made for some interesting dancefloor remixes. But Winterbrief should seriously call it a day and try to make some money with their keyboards on the Antiques Roadshow instead.

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