Just a few weeks ago, Canadian electro-poppers Woodhands released a “diss” track directed at a certain music webzine that starts with “P” (hint: it’s not PopMatters). I bring this up not because it is of much consequence to me, but because it says a lot about a group that’s still releasing early-aughts electro-pop nearly ten years after anyone cares.
The track itself can only be described as “godawful” — the synths sound like early the Faint, the vocals clip like James Murphy’s when they aren’t doing some sort of faux-rap, and the “disses” are best when they’re just entirely false (and worst when they make “Weird Al” Yankovich’s 1999 single “All About the Pentiums” look good). Again, this track isn’t actually featured on the group’s third full-length, Remorsecapade, but it pretty well encapsulates the band: brash, retardataire, and much less funny than they think they are. RIYL 3OH!3, amirite?
It’s unfortunate that this style has become the de facto face of contemporary synth-pop — we all thought we put electroclash in the far part of the closet so our kids wouldn’t find it and realize that we all do, indeed, make mistakes. And to make matters worse, there are still a lot of interesting acts dabbling in synth-pop and post-punk revival; Shy Child’s Noise Won’t Stop was fantastic all the way through 2008, and Foals and These New Puritans continue to bring excitement to a genre that seems to have been bled dry.
It’s also unfortunate that Woodhands are now a bad reminder of the fact that the genre has had better days. Up until now, they have been really quite an interesting act. Just like Shy Child, their fantastic single “Dancer” — with lovely airy verses and an ominous, aggressive (but never brash) chorus — gave me hope in 2008 that electronic rock still had vitality. Hell, when I stumbled onto their cover of “Electric Avenue” — entirely non-ironic and rather inventive (if I wasn’t sold on the new “look at how cheeky I am!” vocal work) — earlier this year, it reminded me that I didn’t have to dig out Danse Macabre to enjoy synths again.
But when Remorsecapade landed on my desk not too long ago, I was (obviously) more than a little let down. The new vocal stylings predominate on the record. Opposed to toned-down yells, here we have multi-tracked, arrogant sing-speak that takes over everything else on the album. This would be a problem on its own, but here we also see the band giving us songs called “Sluts” and “Coolchazine” that bring synths that sound more like the Faint than the Faint do these days.
Given how cringeworthy Woodhands’ conceit is, the group is most interesting when they step outside of their comfort zone. “I Should Have Gone with My Friends” is far from excellent, but its vocal-free expanses of electronics are a nice reprieve from 40 minutes of loutish post-electroclash. The true winner is “Dissembler”, though. Featuring Maylee Todd (who contributed vocals to “Dancer”, and whose Gal Costa-esque solo work is worth checking out), the group tones everything down — yelling, synths, etc. — and strikes a nice balance between tender and catchy.
Toeing the line between laughably tender (“I Want to Be Together” gets a little more laughable than “Dissembler”) and obnoxiously brash, Woodhands bring to mind another young Canadian duo: Japandroids. But whereas Japandroids are earnest and endearing, Woodhands come off as obnoxious wise-asses, hiding their bitterness and unhappiness behind a put-on sense of “cool”. Maybe I’m reading into this all too much — after all, that “diss” track is titled “Piss”, so maybe they’re doing some sort of post-post-ironic piss taking. But that still doesn’t save Remorsecapade.