I Am the World Trade Center: The Tight Connection

Jason Damas

I Am the World Trade Center

The Tight Connection

Label: Kindercore
US Release Date: 2002-07-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

Pop Culture has a rule of 20s: take a pop phenomenon (music, book, movie, you name it) and in 20 years it stands a great chance of coming back. So -- surprise -- we're in the midst of a massive '80s revival, where keyboards (which, except for dance music, were almost extinct in the grunge-saturated mid-'90s) have come back to the forefront in music. I Am the World Trade Center, basically the project of Kindercore Records co-founder Dan Geller and vocalist Amy Dykes, are one of the most popular and most visible acts of this current wave of synth-pop revisionists (others include Freezepop, Lifestyle, and newer Bis).

The Tight Connection is I Am the World Trade Center's second album, following their debut Out of the Loop, which was released just a year ago! Now HERE is a trend that needs to stay!. Much like many of their peers, they take the synth-pop aesthetic to the extreme; I Am the World Trade Center don't use any instruments BUT synthesizers on this album. Geller puts together all of the arrangements, loops, samples, etc. on his laptop (which is rather amusingly pictured inside the album jacket, almost as if it's considered a band member) and Dykes piles some mildly ethereal, girlish vocals on top of it all. That's not much different from a band like Freezepop, who rely solely on the sonics of their Yamaha QY-70 and sound similarly flat on the course of the disc. And that's of course the common drawback to these nuevo-synthers; most of them are so strict, so hardcore that they create soundscapes even more bland than the less interesting half of early '80s new wave. Sometimes this loses and confuses people. But there's a difference between the authentically uninspired "vintage" synth-pop and the "inspired boredom" of these new bands. I'm sure that this sounds like a load of bull, but these new bands have history on their side and realize why new wave stays fun AND why it dated itself. And with that knowledge, many of them make entertaining if unremarkable records, sort of a "time capsule" that recreates old trends for fun and nothing more. What's wrong with that?

Well, The Tight Connection, like almost any record fundamentally rooted in the past, can easily be compared to its predecessors. The most common (and most accurate) comparison is to Saint Etienne, whose lush dance soundscapes were more complex and calculated than anything by I Am the World Trade Center, even though there are notable sonic and vocal similarities: for one, Amy Dykes is a vocal dead-ringer for Etienne's Sarah Cracknell. But once again -- "meticulous" is a word that doesn't even begin to describe the craftsmanship on a Saint Etienne record, while I Am the World Trade Center make records that sound glossy, superficial, plastiscene, and a little tossed-off (this is intentional, by the way, and I don't mean any of it as a bad thing). Saint Etienne's hooks are also sublime but very, very infectuous: some of them don't reveal themselves until after dozens of listens.

The Tight Connection, however, is about surface and sound. The songwriting is almost intentionally thinner, as if the vocals were very much an afterthought to the bopping synthesizers that form the base of the songs. And Dykes' vocals retain more of the detached boredom of '80s new wave than Cracknell's, making her sound closer to Debbie Harry or even Nena (yes, really). In fact, I Am the World Trade Center do a very literal (though guitarless) cover of Blondie's "Call Me" here -- you'd swear it's a karaoke version -- as well as the more unconventional choice of the Stone Roses' "Shoot You Down". "Call Me" may have been too obvious a choice, really -- since it's no leap of logic to compare Dykes to Harry, listeners don't need to be clubbed over the head with their similarities -- but keep in mind again that I Am the World Trade Center are not to be taken fully seriously. This is a fun, lightweight side project. And it sounds like the ear candy that it is.

Now, with that, one might find it suspicious that this article has not yet analyzed the band's name, which brings to mind the creepy images of last September 11th and the World Trade Center's collapse. Inevitably, I Am the World Trade Center (who did choose their name long before September 11th, and, in my opinion, have no real reason to change it) will garner most of their attention from the media and listeners because of their name, and many of them will be shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- that the band didn't change their name out of respect for the victims. And most other reviews of The Tight Connection will probably mention this connection with a mixture of surprise and disgust in the opening few paragraphs. One particularly clueless reviewer said that "those looking for some sort of response to September 11 will doubtless be surprised by the group's failure to address the tragedy in any way. In place of catharsis, I Am the World Trade Center offers up simple pop melodies sung with very little conviction over 1980s-style Casio electronica." Uh, yeah. Since the band -- who are really as much an art project as a pop band -- have been thrust into a much brighter spotlight than expected or intended, there will undoubtedly be countless masses who don't "get" them, people who think their name is a tacky, commercialistic play on a massive tragedy, and midwestern soccer moms will wonder "what this world has come to". But I disagree with what our clueless reviewer stated; I Am the World Trade Center do not -- and should not, even -- have made a direct response to the September 11th attacks. That would be lying about what they are about, altering the concept of their art project to then pander to the masses and, in effect, that would be the greatest sell-out/cash-in that they could've possibly concocted. For I Am the World Trade Center to stick with their sound and put out a solid sophomore record is in line with George Dubya's request for U.S citizens to go about our lives as normal, as opposed to if I Am the World Trade Center had named the album "Tribute to Heroes" and tossed in a cover of "Won't Get Fooled Again". Or something.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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

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