Music

Ghostland Observatory: Robotique Majestique

Andrew Martin

Although slightly more dance-oriented, this album is disappointingly more of what you would expect from the Austin, Texas, electro-rock duo, but with a glossier finish.


Ghostland Observatory

Robotique Majestique

Label: Trashy Moped
US Release Date: 2008-03-04
UK Release Date: Unavailable
Amazon
iTunes

Ghostland Observatory has become an easy band to ignore. Frontman Aaron Behrens sounds like a poor-man's Freddie Mercury, while the actual music is basically a hybrid of Beck and Daft Punk b-sides. Yet, the Austin, Texas, natives garnered some attention. And at the time, two years ago to be exact, it was warranted. The duo had just released its fun and ass-shaking Paparazzi Lightning, the follow-up to delete.delete.i.eat.meat. While those albums did sound very similar, there was a certain quality that made all the press coverage appear worthy.

Perhaps it's the fact that Behrens and Thomas Ross Turner, who handles the drums and synths, weren't taking themselves too seriously. At least, it seemed that way. There was no epic sound to songs like "Sad Sad City" and "Shoot 'Em Down", both of which are highlights from their previous albums.

While Ghostland Observatory has been heavily electronic since its debut, the music never sounded this glossy. Gone is the lo-fi, sometimes dirty feel. In its place are over-produced tracks that lack any feeling of emotion. Not to mention that much of Robotique Majestique gives the vibe of being a re-worked compilation of the duo's older songs rather than a new release.

And really, the band just rocked more, much more to be exact, before this album. As cliché as it is to use that adjective, it's all too true here. The electric guitar is basically non-existent, and in its place are more synths and simplistic drum beats. "HFM" is the closest the guys get to rocking again, but Behrens's inaudible shrieks are more distracting than enjoyable. With vocals reminiscent of the Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Behrens comes close to breaking out of his range on "HFM". But for the rest of the album, he sticks to his tried and true formula of doing his best Mercury impression. Just listen to "Heavy Heart" and you'll get the point. It doesn't help that Behrens takes no risks with his lyrics, either, as most of them deal with telling the listener to dance in one form or another.

Let me make it known that I'm not saying that an entirely electronic record cannot work. Obviously, that would be blatantly ignorant and flat-out wrong. The key to using keyboards, drum machines, and the like, however, is to make sure they have some kind of life to them. Not only that, but the beats could certainly use some more variety. The incessant, tinny drums on "Heavy Heart", "Freeheart Lover", and "Club Soda" are basically one and the same.

Truth be told, Robotique Majestique isn't a total loss. Much of the album is well suited for a college dance party, and some of the songs get the job done. "No Place for Me", except for some of the singing, is hauntingly fun and catchy. And even though it's obnoxiously over-the-top, "Heavy Heart" is a charmingly robotic romp. Also worthy of mention again is "HFM". It doesn't hit in the way it should, but the song shows that the band could succeed if the guys went in a noisier direction.

4

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Mixing some bland "alternate" and "film" versions of Whitney Houston's six songs included on The Bodyguard with exemplary live cuts, this latest posthumous collection for the singer focuses on pleasing hardcore fans and virtually no one else.

No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it's still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

Keep reading... Show less
4
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image