Hexes & Ohs: Goodbye Friend, Welcome Lover
Noise Factory

Though Hexes & Ohs' Goodbye Friend, Welcome Lover sounds like a full-band effort, it's actually the product of multi-instrumentalists Heidi Donnelly and Edmund Lam who share vocal, sequencer, and guitar duties. That isn't anything too unusual these days but it's nonetheless a conceit convincingly maintained throughout the Montreal duo's debut full-length, a twelve-track concoction of alternately brooding (“Our Reflection Echoes On”) and delicate, light-hearted (“This and Other Distances”) synth-pop. It's an instrumentally accomplished outing filled with lyrics covering the familiar terrain of alienation and heartbreak and delivered in a soft vocal style that on occasion calls to mind Simon and Garfunkel. Cited influences include Stereolab and New Order, and it's not difficult to hear echoes of both surfacing now and then.

The album's an eclectic mix that includes a sparkling instrumental overture of chiming keys and synth bleeps (“But It Can Build Beautiful Things”), guitar-driven rock (“Whadaya Know?”), experimental interludes with croaking voices and grimy beats (“The Horse's Myth”), and pretty vocal pop (“Snow and Jazz Music,” “You Can't Save Face”). With its skittering beats, acidy synth accents, hushed vocals, and twanging guitars, the slightly brooding “Alive Until Saturday Night” showcases the group's propensity for expansive arrangements. The 11-minute closing song also impresses, though that's more attributable to naw's remix abilities. In “Our Reflection Echoes On (camembert, beurre et baguette mix),” the group's original vocals are heard as intermittent phantom traces but the primary focus is a lightly bumping tech-house groove overlaid by tinkling keys, voice traces, and steely electrical tones.

Featuring additional production by Vitamins For You, “Scabby Knees” exposes all of the band's strengths and weaknesses in a single song. After a great opening of chopped vocal interweaves, an attractive vocal melody takes an awkward and off-key turn that threatens to derail the song; countering it are the song's appealing instrumental touches (handclaps, glockenspiels). Ultimately, Goodbye Friend, Welcome Lover registers as a credible enough effort with strong arrangements but weakened by often characterless vocals and songs that could do with stronger hooks. While it all sounds good enough, the most critical ingredient of the pop genre often goes missing: hooks that penetrate your brain and won't let go.

June 2005