Tiny Magnetic Pets: Return of the Tiny Magnetic Pets

If ‘80s-styled synth-pop featuring serenading female vocals is your thing, then you may find Tiny Magnetic Pets worth checking out. The group, which took its name from the collectable Japanese toys, pairs singer and synth player Paula Gilmer with Seán Quinn, late of Electric Penguins. For its debut album, the group opted to work within the limitations of ‘70s studio technology; eschewing computers altogether and recording the music live, Gilmer and Quinn used Moog, Roland and Korg synthesizers, Mellotron, organ, bass, guitars, and drum machines to create the songs' instrumental sounds. What's behind the urge to travel back two decades? A longing for a simpler time at least partially explains it—“emotional time travel,” as it's described here, with “Girl in a White Dress” in particular evidencing the desire for a more carefree time.

Bowie (circa Low) Gary Numan, and Kraftwerk are name-checked as reference points but Tiny Magnetic Pets' poppy, radio-friendly sound has more in common with a band such as Lali Puna (the vocal approach in “Spaced,” for example, is vintage Lali Puna). The group also sounds much like Siouxsie & the Banshees during the verses in “Control Me” and Goldfrapp during its choruses. Interestingly, the opening melody in “Cosmodrome” borrows from “Over the Rainbow.” Regardless, it's not hard to imagine the frothy synth-pop of “Girl in a White Dress” spilling out of car radios across the land, and the swooning melody in the chorus of “I Wasn't Here” suggests strong single potential too. In addition, “Spinning” drapes confessional lyrics about turmoil and confusion and breathy vocals over a humming chorus and pulsating cloud of keyboard patterns, and Gilmer's voice is especially pretty during the dreamy ballad “A Faraway Sea.” Throughout the dozen songs, analog synthesizers jubilantly squeal and sing amidst the rickety thrust of ‘70s drum machines (James Byrne's acoustic drumming gives three songs some welcome heft) and Gilmer's humanizing voice. It's not a perfect album—silly lyrics prove the undoing of the otherwise decent “Boom Boom Boom”—but more often than not Return of The Tiny Magnetic Pets provides a pleasurable forty-three-minute listen.

July 2009