Junobot: The Nature of Technology

Many synth-pop releases end up disappointing for one reason or another: sometimes it's the sameness of the analog-heavy sound, other times it's a one-dimensional songwriting style. On the evidence of his Junobot outing The Nature of Technology, Sacramento-based Nathan Crow falls victim to no such missteps and instead shows himself to be a thoroughly enlightened practitioner of high-quality 'robot music' (having acquired a collection of vintage '80s analog synthesizers and drum machines, he named himself after the Juno keyboard). First of all, though the froggy croak of a vocoder repeatedly appears, he doesn't use it on every song but rather alternates treated vocals with a natural croon that's not only serviceable but downright appealing. Secondly, he realizes that glossy synth arrangements amount to very little in the absence of strong songwriting; needless to say, Crow's material teems with infectious, rubber-band synth melodies. Song styles range across sparkling electro-synth pop (the squelchy, acid-tinged “Honeycouch” and the sashaying “Without You”), churning industrial (“17”), new wave (“Free Enough”), and even disco (“Would You Like To Kiss Me?”). Though Crow takes his inspiration from groups like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, New Order, Depeche Mode, and Human League, Suction-styled 'robot music' in general (with its dark, aggressive ambiance and pulsating synth patterns, “U R Not Me” is Suction to its technoid core) and Solvent in particular are Junobot's closest analogues, with “Laurel” a song one easily could mistake for Solvent. At times the music flirts a little too brazenly with accessibility (“You'll Never Get Anywhere”) yet, even in those moments, it's hard to resist its pop allure.

Many albums start to drag by the time the twelfth song (the hour-long The Nature of Technology includes sixteen songs) appears but the irresistible chug of “Now You've Gone Away” prevents that from happening here. The album's also the rare instance where the remixes are uniformly strong as opposed to middling add-ons: The Duke from Freezepop spotlights Crow's feathery vocals most prominently on the radiant, disco-fueled “Smile” remix, LeMansElectro gives “Love Me” a steaming industrial-disco overhaul, and Crackbaby and Junio Dragon boost “17” with heavy drum breaks.

Admittedly, Crow's no Auden (consider this couplet from “Smile”: “And all I really ask is for a smile / From the cute one in the corner”) but typically the hooks are so strong and the arrangements so rich you'll hardly notice the lyrics' generally naïve caliber. Having said that, it is hard to imagine that lyrics like “Just give me something / Something to live for / Just give me something / But don't give me plastic” (“Plastic”) aren't meant ironically given the wholly synthetic context the song's vocodered vocal is couched within. Perhaps that's precisely the point Crow's attempting to make, that despite the pristine electronic sheen of his music, it's a human heart at his music's center that beats loudest.

June 2005