Electric Youth Leave Their Cinematic Roots Behind on the Synthpop Laden 'Memory Edition'
While Electric Youth's Memory Edition is undoubtedly an enjoyable album that successfully captures the glossy aesthetic of synthpop, it is let down by uninspired songwriting.
Watts Arcade Inc./Last Gang
9 August 2019
The shimmering pop of Electric Youth has always been heavily enmeshed with film. The synthpop duo first came to prominence in 2011 following the release of stylish, neo-noir film Drive, which featured their song "A Real Hero" (written in collaboration with College and later released in their 2014 debut album Innerworld) as a recurring character theme. Their second studio album, Breathing (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from a Lost Film), was initially written as a film score, although ultimately left out of the film after creative differences derailed the project. With the release of their third studio album, Memory Edition, the duo leave their cinematic roots to produce a standalone LP that, while appropriately elegant, rests on underwhelming songwriting.
Memory Edition is undoubtedly a stylish album, capturing the core elements of synthpop that make the genre so chic. Opening track "The Life" launches into a glossy assembly of synth strings, sparkling arpeggiated synth leads, punchy drums, and a driving sequenced bass that harks back to classic '80s synth tones outfitted in a sleek, futuristic gloss. The instrumentation throughout the album is refined and smooth, never feeling raw, and Electric Youth lean heavily on the "synth" of synthpop to produce a polished tone. Almost all sounds on the album are synthesized, including a range of drum machine samples. The guitar only makes its first appearance on the fourth song "Real Ones" and a smattering of others. Bronwyn Griffin, one half of Electric Youth, delivers soft, airy vocals that add a flair of romanticism to the suave musical timbre. Tracks such as "Breathless" see her crooning vocals intensify the ruminating lyricism and aptly complimenting serene synth plucks.
Electric Youth's love of synths is only matched by their love of effects. Every lead, pad, and arpeggiator is supplied a healthy dollop of delay, reverb, and modulation, as are the vocals which drip with reverb. These effects generally support the spacey, futuristic character of their sound but also contribute textual and rhythmic elements, such as on "Evergreen 143" in which a gently flanging synth pad underpin the placid movement of the song. Supplementing this vigorous use of synthesizers is masterly production. Austin Garrick, the other half of Electric Youth, trained as a producer and his experience shows on the album. The eclectic range of synth sounds and thick instrumentation sit comfortably amongst the cavernous effects and punchy percussion, while vocals retain their clarity despite their wispiness.
Despite the well-crafted sound of the album, Memory Edition is let down by its songwriting as many of its tracks rely too heavily on their chic aesthetic, overlooking the importance of catchy hooks and groovy rhythms. "On My Own" rests on an interesting medley of percussion beats and an abrasive, languid guitar riff, but ultimately falls flat through its uninspired, and somewhat tedious, vocal line. Likewise, the rhythmic, glitchy chord stabs, and disco groove on "Higher" create a solid foundation that is let down by bland accompanying vocal melodies. While certainly not true of all songs – the catchy melodies and rhythms on "ARAWA" create a natural ebb and flow – too many songs offer little to catch and keep the listeners' interest.
Similarly, many songs lack the necessary structural and instrumental development to keep them engaging over their full length. The ethereal synths and sequenced bass driving "Through the Same Eyes" offer solid groundwork for the song to develop and grow. But it becomes stagnant as the track remains instrumentally and structurally repetitive, and fizzles out with an undelivered climax as the listener waits for the song to kick into gear. Likewise, "thirteen" sets itself up as a passionate ballad that merely persists as a drag of tedious choral harmonies, derivative synth pads, and an underwhelming guitar solo. The minimal development of songs often leaves them feeling lackluster which, combined with their mellow tone and relaxed pace, results in a pleasant, but not engaging, listening experience. One tends to find themselves tuning out as the music is pushed into the background.
Other tracks are more successful in this respect, such as "Now Now", one of the more upbeat tracks that supply a catchy chorus to carry the song through, and "ARAWA", in which the bridge provides an appropriate sense of relief from which the verse can launch. Too often though, songs are left to meander in an underwhelming fizzle.
While Memory Edition is undoubtedly an enjoyable album that successfully captures the glossy aesthetic of synthpop, it is let down by uninspired songwriting. In their pursuit of a stylized elegance – and perhaps also as a consequence of their previous foray into cinematic music – Electric Youth have delivered scarcely few memorable melodies or catchy grooves and overlooked the importance of satisfying musical conclusions. The first three tracks of Memory Edition are certainly the strongest of the album and demonstrate Electric Youth's ability to write music better suited to studio albums than cinema. Their next release will show whether they care to do so.