Solvent: Apples & Synthesizers

Then: Roaring sounds of Skinny Puppy rattle a bedroom's floorboards as the high school student within admires Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk album covers. Now: Said youth Jason Amm (Solvent) keeps the analog flame burning with Suction Records, the label he manages with Gregory de Rocher (Lowfish), and superb electro-pop releases like 2001's Solvent City (Morr Music) and Apples & Synthesizers on Ghostly International. The new full-length's CD format includes ten new songs plus the three previously released tracks “My Radio,” “Think Like Us,” and “For You” that, while familiar, have lost none of their luster or appeal. The elegant paean “My Radio” is especially lovely, with the melancholy tone of its skyward synths mirrored by lyrical wistfulness. Heard before in a version by Tinfoil Teakettle (de Rocher and Amm), the dark electro of “Think Like Us” is rendered memorable by its vocoder chorus (which seemingly references Talking Heads' “Nothing But Flowers”) and the electronic Jew's Harp twanging that runs throughout. Other highlights include the chiming synths and lurching rhythm of “Poly Ensemble” and the gorgeous contrapuntal arrangement of meaty bass and soaring treble synths on “Operating Ease.”

Anyone expecting radical changes from Solvent City will be disappointed as Apples & Synthesizers carries on in a similar vein. There are subtle differences, however. Four tracks feature vocals (primarily vocodered) and the skipping beat and slurred voice sample of “First Step” nudge the Solvent sound towards more experimental territory. What most distinguishes Apples & Synthesizers is the warmth and humanity it brings to an oft cold and sterile genre, while remaining both accessible and sophisticated. Still, always lurking in the background is the caveat that Amm's music, like that of his fellow Suction Records' cohorts, can be labeled retrograde for being indifferent to recent trends like glitch and DSP. Any urge to criticize, however, dissipates immediately in the presence of the irresistible melodies and skipping beats of “For You.”

August 2004