New York City’s Blip Blip Bleep have put out a pair of derivative but highly listenable synth-pop EP’s over the past few years. Like Track Stars, their first full-length album, finds them starting to carve out their own sound. Frontman and songwriter Sean Han tends to build his songs on two or three separate synth lines, then adds live drums, layered male-female harmonies, and sometimes throws in a guitar. What sets Blip Blip Bleep apart from similar synth-pop-oriented indie acts is Han’s ear for melody and lyrical specificity.
The band’s previous EP, Alarm Clock, Snooze Bar, Get Up was a concept record following a day in the life of a one-night stand. Like Track Stars has a similar conceit, this time covering a relationship from its meeting-at-a-bar beginning to the inevitable breakup. Lead single “Freak You Out” is a pulsing electro-style ode to sexual innuendo that finds Han apologizing, “I didn’t mean to freak you out / It’s just that you’ve got me freaking out”, before going over the line into full-on creepy territory near the song’s end with, “In case it happens that I never see you again / I’ve got you / Got you got you inside my head.” In contrast, the rose-colored nostalgia of the title track recalls all of the good times in the relationship. Set to warm, open major piano chords that gradually give way to organ and chirping synths, the song deftly works in pretty harmonies from Alexa Danner and sounds like the perfect album-closer. That it comes in the exact middle of the album is your clue that this relationship is not going to have a happy ending.
A cover of the Cure’s “A Letter to Elise” comes late in the album, and its crumbling-love lyrics imply that its placement is intentional. Musically, Blip Blip Bleep’s take on the song resembles an ’80s power-ballad and features more great harmonizing from Han and Danner. It also has an inspired drum performance from ex-member Brett Thompson (since replaced by Jojo Schwarz). The wistful tone of the next track, “Rewrite the Scenes”, fits Han’s narration of the relationship’s final night, as he pleads, “Don’t be sad tonight.” Musically, the song’s unusual synth intro traces a major scale over five full octaves and provides a memorable hook for the track.
Not every lyric Han writes completely works, but he usually makes up for it with a catchy melody. “Rock (Intro)” has the refrain “1-2-3-4-5-6-7 / Why doesn’t this thing go to 11? / I just wanna rock now, baby!”, and it’s tough to tell if he seriously wants to rock, is just being goofy, or is speaking as his lead character, getting increasingly drunk at the bar. Regardless, the refrain sticks in your head, buttressed by a thumping hip-hop beat and a pair of hooky synth lines. The album-closing “Rock (Reprise)” doesn’t work nearly as well, with a churning guitar solo replacing the synths and most of the lyrics and thundering drum fills substituting for the more focused beat of the intro. For the majority of the album, though, Han’s melodic and lyrical instincts are sharp. It’s those instincts that make Like Track Stars a fun record from top to bottom.