Music

Doctor Fluorescent's Debut Is a Relaxing Retro Synth Ride

Photo: Wyatt Troll / Courtesy of Crammed Discs

Doctor Fluorescent's debut album is a chill piece of songcraft steeped in vintage synths and other retro electronic sounds.

Doctor Fluorescent
Doctor Fluorescent

Crammed Discs

28 February 2020

Doctor Fluorescent's debut album is an interesting piece of electronic songcraft. Los Angeles-based musicians Eddie Ruscha (who goes by the stage name Secret Circuit) and Scott Gilmore have each released albums of their own. Doctor Fluorescent is their first collaboration together, and they've put out a record steeped in vintage synths and other retro electronic sounds.

The vibe of the album is established with the first song, "Spirits Alone". Synth and drum pad sounds right out of the early '80s open the song, with a distinctive repeating arpeggio serving as both the hook and the track's bedrock. Heavily electronically distorted vocals languidly sing barely decipherable lyrics, as if the sound is more important than the words. Another early '80s sounding electric guitar tone interrupts the song midway through for a simple solo and then becomes the new anchoring sound for the back half of the track.

Doctor Fluorescent could've stuck with this Knight Rider meets Miami Vice tone for the whole album, but Ruscha and Gilmore aren't interested in just doing slight variations on the same idea. "A Museum" has a jaunty vibe, with high-pitched synth melodies, twinkling and crashing background noises, more incomprehensible distorted vocals, and interesting percussion, including xylophones and a recurring flex-a-tone.

"Bamboo Horses" shuffles along on a synth snare and hi-hat beat, and throws in a bunch of different guitar and synth sounds. Constantly pinging wood-like sounds give the song the impression of bamboo, at least until it hits a wall in the final minute, going into a slow-moving, much less busy section to fade away. "Butterfly Jury" is relaxed and low-key, with fluttering sounds and smooth jazz guitars giving the whole track a very chill vibe. The back half of the song uses metal glockenspiel-type sounds to adjust the basic feel of the track.

While most of the songs on the record seem easygoing and relaxing, there are a couple of notable exceptions. "Doctor Fluorescent's Emporium" is a chirpy, cheesily cheerful synth tune overlaid with a voiceover making the song a faux ad for the titular store. The speaking voice is intentionally awkward, and much of the monologue is just a little off-kilter. Phrases like, "Open seven days a week / 23 hours a day" and "Every Wednesday between 9:00-9:45 pm, we offer 40% off of all of our spy equipment" are intriguingly weird. And the voice is mixed just a little underneath the music, so multiple listens gradually reveal more weirdness.

"These Are My Eyes" has the catchiest hooks on the album, with an earworm of a piano riff and an easy listening style vocal melody. The vocals are distorted as usual, but the arrangement is sparse enough that they stand out. The lyrics, with lines including, "Why don't you know / These are my eyes" and "Why don't you know I can feel / When you're underneath my eyes" provide an unsettling counterpoint to the upbeat music.

Doctor Fluorescent succeeds in creating a relaxing retro vibe with the bulk of this album. It's a breezy, easy record to put on and just chill. But that also means that a lot of the individual songs, while interesting from a sonic standpoint, don't really have a strong hook or melody to make them stand out. That is why "Spirits Alone", with its distinctive synth loop, is memorable, and why "Doctor Fluorescent's Emporium" and "These Are My Eyes" make a bigger impact on the album. If Ruscha and Gilmore continue their collaboration in the future, more focus on melody will help their music feel distinctive amongst their synthwave brethren.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.