[6 April 2008]
Ghostland Observatory has become an easy band to ignore. Frontman Aaron Behrens sounds like a poor-man’s Freddie Mercury, while the actual music is basically a hybrid of Beck and Daft Punk b-sides. Yet, the Austin, Texas, natives garnered some attention. And at the time, two years ago to be exact, it was warranted. The duo had just released its fun and ass-shaking Paparazzi Lightning, the follow-up to delete.delete.i.eat.meat. While those albums did sound very similar, there was a certain quality that made all the press coverage appear worthy.
Perhaps it’s the fact that Behrens and Thomas Ross Turner, who handles the drums and synths, weren’t taking themselves too seriously. At least, it seemed that way. There was no epic sound to songs like “Sad Sad City” and “Shoot ‘Em Down”, both of which are highlights from their previous albums.
While Ghostland Observatory has been heavily electronic since its debut, the music never sounded this glossy. Gone is the lo-fi, sometimes dirty feel. In its place are over-produced tracks that lack any feeling of emotion. Not to mention that much of Robotique Majestique gives the vibe of being a re-worked compilation of the duo’s older songs rather than a new release.
And really, the band just rocked more, much more to be exact, before this album. As cliché as it is to use that adjective, it’s all too true here. The electric guitar is basically non-existent, and in its place are more synths and simplistic drum beats. “HFM” is the closest the guys get to rocking again, but Behrens’s inaudible shrieks are more distracting than enjoyable. With vocals reminiscent of the Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Behrens comes close to breaking out of his range on “HFM”. But for the rest of the album, he sticks to his tried and true formula of doing his best Mercury impression. Just listen to “Heavy Heart” and you’ll get the point. It doesn’t help that Behrens takes no risks with his lyrics, either, as most of them deal with telling the listener to dance in one form or another.
Let me make it known that I’m not saying that an entirely electronic record cannot work. Obviously, that would be blatantly ignorant and flat-out wrong. The key to using keyboards, drum machines, and the like, however, is to make sure they have some kind of life to them. Not only that, but the beats could certainly use some more variety. The incessant, tinny drums on “Heavy Heart”, “Freeheart Lover”, and “Club Soda” are basically one and the same.
Truth be told, Robotique Majestique isn’t a total loss. Much of the album is well suited for a college dance party, and some of the songs get the job done. “No Place for Me”, except for some of the singing, is hauntingly fun and catchy. And even though it’s obnoxiously over-the-top, “Heavy Heart” is a charmingly robotic romp. Also worthy of mention again is “HFM”. It doesn’t hit in the way it should, but the song shows that the band could succeed if the guys went in a noisier direction.