Pitchfork Media / Music Writing
From 2005-2009 I wrote album reviews, track reviews, and other material for the music Internet publication Pitchfork Media. Below is my review for the Datarock album "Red." An archive of my writing for the site can be found here.
Datarock / Red / September 1, 2009
Countless bands hedge their music with heaps of irony (arguably vice versa in some cases), but few buttress it with Datarock's technical prowess. Sure, the Norwegian duo has its eye-rolling moments about night flights to Uranus or dancing with their daddies, but they also sport some of the slickest dance production in the biz, not to mention their effortless traversing between neurotic post-punk licks and coked-to-the-gills 1980s synth pop. While convention would say sophomore LP Red will have its share of "growing up" moments, there's already something artistically mature and high-concept about two guys jury-rigging their own sub-genre of kitsch disco to one-up the legions of more "serious" Talking Heads/Eno knock-offs floating around today. Red isn't exactly austere, but its lapses into wistfulness jolt Fredrik Saroea and Ketil Mosnes out of the bizarre but stable niche they carved out on their 2005 debut.
As a quick glance at the track listing shows, Datarock's going pop on Red, boiling their songs down to a compact three minutes rather than going nuts with the dramatic dancefloor builds. These songs also have premises beyond shouting goofy shibboleths. There's a song consisting entirely of Talking Heads song titles ("True Stories"), an electro metal album opener about the Internet ("The Blog"), and a chilly kraut-funk apostrophe to Molly Ringwald ("Molly"), to name a few. While the lyrical craft here ain't exactly Dylan-esque, the duo shows off a level of cleverness that previously tended to level-off at wordplay and dick jokes.
The (minor) drawback: Datarock didn't have to dumb things down this much to become catchier. While tightly wound tracks like "Give It Up" or "Dance!" bring the energy, they're the kind of easy-to-swallow electropop hipness you can get from, like, Chromeo, which isn't a bad thing, just that Datarock's usually a lot tougher to pin down than that. To their credit, though, there are also flashes of songs I didn't think the band could pull off. "Back in the Seventies" backs up its gushing nostalgia with crisply replicated plastic soul, and aforementioned "The Blog" soups up the headbanging outro from previous standout "Princess", creating an apocalyptic maelstrom of fuzzy bass riffs and soundbytes of computer pundits talking about the Internet.
Datarock Datarock cooled down with two overlooked but nonetheless solid IDM tracks, but on Red the duo's softer side gets a lot more shine. "Amarillion" would sound at home on Saturdays=Youth, a John Hughes-y serenade full of watery guitars and shout-outs to girl-ensnaring junior high mixtape staples like "Take On Me" and "(I Just) Died in Your Arms". "Fear of Death" is an equally zealous 80s tribute, lifting lines from Don DeLillo's White Noise and chord progressions from Robert Smith to produce a stinging existential ballad.
While it's tough not to notice the "Fa Fa Fa" or "I Used to Dance with My Daddy"-sized holes in Red, you can't fault the band too much. After all, their frenetic songs sound perfect for all those video game and TV spots they've netted, and no energy's been lost in the transition from writing club-friendlier music to more conventional pop structures. Red contains no clunkers, only lukewarm forays that further convince me this band can nail any sound they want, cheekiness be damned. If the songwriting ever catches up with the stellar production and performance, they could name their next album 2 Girls 1 Cup, and people would be too blown away to care.