With Turn Up the Ghosts, Dat'R lay down some genuine, exciting electro-pop that'll make you dance... whether you want to or not.
Turn Up the Ghosts, the debut album from Dat'R, starts off deceptively. Opener "Turn Up the Ghosts Part 1" seems to be the work of a drum-happy indie rock band. There are samples in there, and the electronics come through, but the song is mostly drums and vocals, and wouldn't be too out of place on, say, the latest Menomena record. But this ruse doesn't last long. By the second track, "Turn Up the Ghosts Part 2", it is clear that Dat'R doesn't want that "rock" moniker, they want to make you dance.
And they succeed with Turn Up the Ghosts. The electronics and blips and samples are meshed together seamlessly to create intricate soundscapes that are sometimes electro-pop, sometimes ambient techno music, sometimes downright funk. What brings all these elements together is the stand-out percussion on the album. Paul Alcott's live percussion meshes with the electric bumps and bass and elevates it all to shake-your-ass greatness. "Yellow Cake" is perhaps the best track here, and features Alcott's drums thudding at breakneck speed under some angular sampling and synth work. Think "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" sped up a little, complete with the smug lyric repetition ("They said 'okay', so we got the okay").
The album works best when it avoids the pitfalls of the dangerous ground that is dance music. There are influences to be found here, for sure, in new wave, in European electro-pop, in mash-up, and even a touch of hip-hop. But where so much new music has sought to retread these grounds, Dat'R use their influences as tools to craft their own, unique work. Alcott and partner Matt Dabrowiak use their time in straightforward indie band Binary Dolls to add an organic element that makes these tunes pop. The funk-chk of guitar in "Innercom/Inner Calm", the off-kilter drums in "Turn Up the Ghosts Part 1", the crunchy, wah-drenched riffs in "!Um !Hot" -- these are all elements of a band confident in their craft, and also the sort of surprising moments that keep the album fresh.
There are times where the album falters, and it is usually when it relies too much on the blips and bells. "Turn Up the Ghosts Part 2" has some interesting and catchy vocal melodies, and is a nice companion to its "Part 1" brother, but in the end it suffers from the lack of live drumming. "Steam" has one too many layers of samples for its own good, and the track comes off sounding crowded with all the noise, and the vocals get lost in the mix. "Silica" is full of great parts; the guitar anchors the tune and does its best to support some record-scratch sounds and synthesizer. But with echoed vocals, and the samples set high in the mix, the song sounds more confused and muddled that it should. The last two songs, "The Bloody Lump" and "Choice Cuts in Sauce" are good tunes, but both start off with quiet, lilting synth notes that work within their respective songs, yet paired back-to-back they detract from each other, their similarity taking away from the tension they are supposed to add to the record.
That is not to say that these are bad songs. Far from it. They are just not quite as good as they could be, not up to the funky and ass-shaking standards of the rest of the album. It's also worth noting that Dat'R know how to put an album together. Turn Up the Ghosts thumps the floorboards for nearly forty minutes, until closer "Choice Cuts in Sauce" arrives, a slower, more restrained -- though not much quieter -- song to wean listeners off all the funk and drums and bass of the previous eight tracks. At almost 43 minutes, the album concludes at the right moment, where Dat'R would rather leave us wanting more than wearing out their welcome. Turn Up the Ghosts is a well-executed, fun-as-hell album from an exciting new band. Put on your dancing shoes, and your protective helmet, and bust a move as hard as you can. Ass-shakers, meet Dat'R. Dat'R, meet the ass-shakers. I think you guys will get along just fine.