This might be hard to imagine, but the concept of the synthpop duo is nearly 50 years old. We’ve reached the point where it is entirely possible that folk festivals will include tents featuring demonstrations of how early duos like Sparks, Eurythmics, Soft Cell, and others extracted all those sounds from early synths. In short, it feels like the synthesizer could be two steps away from becoming the autoharp. Not that there is anything at wrong with the autoharp, mind you.
Fortunately, though, some of the old school synthpop duos, like OMD, are still actively making interesting music, while younger artists are finding ways to create distinctive new music that both throws back to the past and is thoroughly in the present. New York’s Tempers – Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper — represent this new wave of synthpop. Tempers’ new album, Private Life, is a worthy addition to the ever-growing legacy of synth-based pop music.
Tempers, who have been recording and releasing music since 2013, are frequently categorized as “darkwave”, but, as with any artist, it’s best to not put them in too narrow a category.
Golestaneh’s vocals are distinctively dreamy throughout Private Life, though her voice is not necessarily more prominent in the album’s mix than that of other instrumentation, which is mostly electronic, aside from some occasional electric guitar. While song lyrics are discernable if you’re focusing on them, you can catch the mood of Tempers’ songs without focusing too much on the lyrics.
The first half of
Private Life offers a pleasing stylistic diversity, with a variety of tempos represented. “Capital Pains”, the opening track on Private Life, does indeed have a dark feel to it, but it is also a catchy, up-tempo song, grounded in electronics, but featuring some minimalistic guitar playing that might remind some listeners of very early tunes by the Cure. The lyrics, which open with “It’s just a way of killing time”, appear to comment on our collective tendency toward social media-based envy and set the stage for introspective focus you’d expect from an album called Private Life.
“Capital Pains” gives way to the moody “Leonard Cohen Afterworld”, whose title is derived from a lyric in Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea”. Thoughts of finding peace in this afterworld are undermined by a subtle degree of menace achieved via a rhythm reminiscent of “Closer”-era Nine Inch Nails. The next track, “Peace of Mind”, slows the album’s pace down a bit, but it is followed by the most interesting stretch of Private Life, which includes “Filters”, “Daydreams”, and “Guidance”.
Following the darkly danceable “Guidance”, Private Life sinks into a contemplative vibe, with three successive sullen laments, “Push/Pull”, “More Than You Realized”, and “Sleep”. The album ends with the appropriately titled “Exit”, an instrumental that, title aside, could have just as easily served as an opening prelude to Private Life.
While casual fans might find the last half of Private Life to be a bit of a downer — though we are talking about a genre of music called “dark wave” here — Tempers are clearly a synthpop duo that both old school and new school fans ought to be able to get behind. And, maybe even someday, fans on the folk festival circuit.