Leanne Macomber and Joel Ford's second release as Young Ejecta is too morose and humorless to be really good pop music, and too upbeat and cheap to be taken very seriously.
Synth-pop became the default sound of indie music at some point in the last decade, somewhere between the whirlwinds of chillwave’s success, EDM’s skyrocketing popularity, and the beguiling phenomenon that had artist after established artist, from Arcade Fire to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, turning to synthesizers and drum machines to freshen up their sound. It wouldn’t be right to call Joel Ford and Leanne Macomber of Young Ejecta “stars” of this new wave of indie pop, but they’ve both had a certain amount of prosperity as a part of it, both separately as members of Ford & Lopatin and Neon Indian, respectively, and together, with the release of their 2013 debut Dominae. On that album, the duo was known simply as Ejecta.
With the release of their new “mini-album” The Planet, Ford and Macomber have embraced the purest, most basic synthpop sound imaginable, with straightforward drum loops that give way to big dance beats, bright and tacky arpeggiated synthesizers, and understated pop hooks. The sound is something like a minimalist version of Chairlift, devoid of the varied sonics and dynamic compositions that make that band’s music so actively enjoyable. Songs like album closer “What You Done” in comparison are almost primitive, with a static beat and vocal melody so passive that it’s almost draining to listen to. The general effect is that the aimlessness very nearly cancels out any pleasantness that the music provides.
The Planet has no suggestion and little nuance, instead relying on the accessibility of blunt force. Macomber, who sings so softly and sweetly that her voice seems to break on every other note, follows along with the unsuitably conventional compositions never expansive enough to evoke anything meaningful and always too bland to accentuate the emotional layers of her voice. The songs are cold and calculated, almost utilitarian, as if their unfinished or rushed demo versions were polished up for release. This puts far too much weight on Macomber’s timid singing voice and delicate lyrics to carry the music, which they simply aren’t built to do.
When something on the EP works, it’s always at the expense of something else of equal importance. “Welcome to Love” is peppy, melodic, and structured like a pop song, but it also doesn’t give Macomber room to stretch her legs. “Recluse” attempts a moody and dramatic tone, but the production is so sparse and lifeless that it becomes a plodding bore. Meanwhile, “Your Planet” somehow nears a balance, but it does so by relegating the opposing tones to separate passages rather than truly integrating them. That’s the big problem for The Planet: it’s too morose and humorless to be really good pop music, and too upbeat and cheap to be taken very seriously.
The uneven combination is disappointing coming from two experienced musicians who have proven that they can do better. At the same time, however, The Planet does find them slightly out of their comfort zone. The clean beats and dry vocals are entirely at odds with the psychedelic, kaleidoscopic sounds of their respective chillwave projects, whose music is washed in so much reverb, compression, and EQ filters that the melodies, rhythms, and vocals take on entirely new shapes. Perhaps the problem with The Planet is that Ford and Macomber embraced the elegant, unadorned style of electronic music without tweaking their usual compositional workflow, resulting in an uncomfortable, asymmetrical sound. Or, of course, they maybe just missed the mark, as all artists do at one point or another. After all, both musicians have moments of brilliance on The Planet; it’s mostly the incompatibility of these moments with the overall recording that kills it. If Young Ejecta were attempting either to subvert today’s popular over-produced indie sound or return to the elemental essence of refined pop music, they’ve only managed to show why maximalism is so in right now.