The guitarist from the Faint takes the leap to singer-songwriter with an album of lazy synth-pop.
Joel Peterson has already made a name for himself, sort of, as a guitarist for the Faint, the producer of several remixes for Of Montreal and AFI, and card-carrying member of Omaha’s Saddle Creek music scene. His solo project, Broken Spindles, began as a multimedia project with hints of Postal Service-pop, but has benefited from the tedium and general revulsion to touring, recording, and being in a band with, well, other people.
Four albums into the solo thing, Kiss/Kick abandons the instrumental and goes full-bore into self-deprecating singer-songwriter mode. Peterson’s minimal, new wave-y pop tunes address insecurity, loneliness, fear and isolation -- worthy subject matter, but much better handled by the likes of Bradford Cox. Not only does Kiss/Kick display inferior New Order-esque pop, but it sounds like a less exciting version of the Faint’s more danceable tunes. Without the fuzzy basslines, Broken Spindles come off a bit sleepy and plodding. I never thought I’d ever actually want to hear the Faint so badly.
A better parallel to the new Broken Spindles sound might be New Zealand’s hazy dance-pop act Shocking Pinks. That artist’s superb self-titled 2007 release succeeded at melding together minimal aspects to create a one-man new wave apparatus. In comparison, the instruments on Kiss/Kick exist separate from one another -- a quality that embodies the worst aspects of laptop pop. Instead of creating a soft soundscape, the effort comes off as piecemeal.
There are moments when Peterson’s new wave inclinations pay small dividends. “We All Want to Fit In” supplies sparse guitar with a verse-and-hook before the drum machine theatrics kick in -- but by this time we’re already sold. “Figure Face Pretty Man” features a driving bass line throughout, and intermittently hits a decent stride on all fronts. But these moments of cohesion are fleeting and not compelling enough to propel Broken Spindles from its side-project status.
Of course, Peterson’s stated purpose with Kiss/Kick is to emphasize the loneliness and desolation of touring. Apparently, there may be some tension between this artist and the rest of the Faint crew; song titles such as “Introvert” drive this point home. But instead of oozing sincerity these track feel sort of detached. It’s not enough to say that you’re isolated and alone -- you need to actually convince me. These emotions feel manufactured and peppered with cheesy synth beats.
So Joel Peterson’s new-and-improved side project still resembles a guitarist experimenting in between what is probably his more important job. The sad part is that Broken Spindles seems to be well-intentioned, with Peterson trying to penetrate the downside of his full-time gig. I want to empathize with his quest to find meaning in the relentless toil of working with ‘the group’. The subject matter is red meat, but Kiss/Kick just doles out leftovers.