How refreshing: A synth-pop band that treats itself as more than simply '80s throwback.
Here's what's wonderful about Kanda: They make the kind of sweeping synth-pop (or electro-pop, or dance-pop, or whatever "pop" the kids are calling it these days) that pretty much went out of style when the '80s faded quietly into that gentle night. Yet, they do it in such a way that it's completely obvious that they don't think of themselves as a novelty act, by any means -- they make music as catchy, as pretty, and as downright sincere as anyone out there. All the Good Meetings Are Taken is the duo of Arland Nicewater and Akina Kawauchi's second album, and first on the fledgling Bop Tart Records, and it's a little slice of heaven for anyone who misses the good old days when you could put the words "synth" and "pop" together in a sentence and still be taken seriously.
So, the cover: Gracing the cover of All the Good Meetings Are Taken is a picture of Nicewater and Kawauchi in front of their new home in Portland. It's a lovely little house, humble in its structure, but graced with some lovely greenery and the odd flower or two. But in the center of this largely plain photograph, there is a burst of sunlight caught in the camera lens, a bright flash that would appear, by the photograph, to be emanating from the house. This describes the music of Kanda as well as anything I could come up with in words, so please, if you're looking for an accurate depiction of what you might find on the album, just scroll up there to the top of the page and look at that cover.
Take opener "Arctic", for instance. There's a fuzzy synth noise, and Nicewater starts singing straightaway. It sounds fairly ordinary. But then a chorus hits, the beat picks up, and the melody warms up the song the way a cup of hot cocoa might on a cold, dark evening. The beat fills out as Kawauchi's voice takes the second voice, and the ray of light gets brighter. By the time both voices are singing, the techno-style beat is plowing ahead, and the synth line is taking off into new places it hasn't been, it's almost impossible to keep from tapping a body part, much less getting up and dancing as the joy overtakes you. It's just that kind of a song -- from humble beginnings, something transcendent.
And so it goes, as the rest of the album progresses. The oddly lovely "Drink for Three", even as it only runs under two minutes, transforms from broken-hearted dirge to pretty (if unrequited) love song via the addition of a simple, but perfect harmony line from Kawauchi. "White Pants" turns from a typical friendship anthem into something a bit more seedy with a quirky lyrical turn that implies the casual use of hard drugs (a theme that also shows up in the hilarious, bouncy "They'll Need Cocaine"). "One Place" closes the short, 25-minute disc with a short minute of simple quarter note bell synths and pretty singing.
Still . . .
"Now what I'm saying is true The only thing on that list . . . is you"
If All the Good Meetings Are Taken were to escape its niche audience, it would be on the strength of "List", the third and by far the strongest (not to mention most exquisitely beautiful) track on the album. Bolstered by some lovely violin work courtesy of Kawauchi herself, "List" is a perfect, sentimental love song that moves far past its genre in its expression of universal sentiment. It's got lilting, pretty melodies and some IDM-inspired drum work backing it all up. In short, it's the sort of song a lovelorn soul could keep on repeat for days on end. The entire song is the brightest splash of light on an album full of them. All the Good Meetings Are Taken may be largely for a small, genre-specific audience, and it may be quite short for a full-length priced album, but oh, is it sweet.