Black Turtleneck: Musical Chairs
Nrmls Wlcm Records

Vocal-based electropop groups aren't legion in number but even a modest sampling—Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Yaz, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode—provides an instructional handbook. With arrangements largely if not entirely synthetic, vocal character becomes an even more critical component at establishing personality. Dave Gahan's singing, for example, is not only instantly recognizable but brings an invitingly earthy, humanizing character to the group's sleek timbres, while Martin Gore's choirboy vocals add contrast. Even Phil Oakey's singing lent The Human League a unique sound, regardless of however wanting one regarded his delivery.

Now Toronto-based electro-duo Black Turtleneck perpetuates the tradition on Musical Chairs with Jason Amm (aka Solvent of Suction Records and Ghostly fame) contributing instrumental riches and Thomas Sinclair handling vocal duties (plus programming and effects). Yet while the lustrous Solvent sound we've come to expect shines as brilliantly as usual, Sinclair's singing, while serviceable enough on jubilant cuts like “Store Front” (first heard on Snow Robots Volume 3), isn't as distinctive. That Amm's and Sinclair's instrumental outings, the buoyant “Roland Radcliffe” and sparkling “Cul De Sac” respectively and the bubbly title cut are three of the disc's best cuts isn't coincidental. Likewise, one almost longs for a vocal-less “Disco Discord,” in order to better hear its off-beat percussion accents and brightly billowing synth elements. Ultimately, whatever's lacking in the vocal department is more than compensated for by the instrumental and songwriting dimensions with the duo, more often than not (the predictably robotic “Step Sequencer” verges on cliché) constructing multi-layered edifices of ultra-melodic synthesis throughout.

July 2006