When the average music listener thinks of techno music images of pasty white nerds tapping away on computers and operating sequencers comes to mind. The broad genre spans from electronic glitch master Aphex Twin through the soulfully morphing Flying Lotus onto the more approachable techno renderings of Atoms For Peace, Massive Attack and Portishead to name just a few. The Generationals may be nerds but they offer a pleasant entry way into techno. The dyad successfully fuses a sound reminiscent of 80’s pop with modern techno. The Generationals are releasing their fourth album “Alix” September 16th; and for the first time collaborated with an outside producer; Richard Swift, producer of The Shins and Black Keys.
Generationals members, Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer are not afraid of bold experiments in indie pop, electronic curveballs and unusual synth rhythms, while throwing in hazy intelligent lyrics. Their debut album, “Con Law” was a deft combination of British Invasion,1950 Wall of Sound and doo wop, all presented through a contemporary techno rock lens. The band has found significant success with movie soundtracks and commercial contributions. The album that would become”Alix” started to form almost immediately after the band came off the road from touring to promote their last album, “Heza”. Fearing they would stagnate they headed back to the studio. The pair were concerned that their productive in the studio was actually a rut in disguise spurred them to ask Swift for his assistance. The New Orleans based dyad made their way to Swift’s studio in Cottage Grove, Oregon with tapes in hand. Swift rather than scraping most of the tunes, or saying “let me work my magic on this”, felt the songs were almost complete. Swift has said that when he heard the demos the songs were already well formed. His main contribution was adding organization and sonic cohesion.
The album”Alix” resulted in a cleaner more direct sound. The disc is personified by a sunny bouncy synth sounds with underlying lyrical darkness, as if it were dance music for the homebound.
The song ‘Black Lemon” engagingly starts the album. There is a bright catchy intro with a marimba. The song is a sweetly iced cupcake full of woe. The lyric illuminates the dark filling of the song, “I spent my whole life tied to the tracks, I have my best friend tell me,”you can never get back”, spent my whole life getting out of the way”. The heavy bass rift mixes nicely with the techno framework.
The stand out song of the release” Gold, Silver, Diamond” has a catchy as all get out intro that just pulls you into the song. It is the Phil Spector” Wall of Sound “filtered through modern alternative technology. It is a feel good track about emptiness, despair and the meaningless futility of life. The track reminds me of the Style Council’s album“Internationalist”, which also had that breezy quality while talking about very serious topics. Here is where Techno meets, rhythm and blues.
“Reviver” is again another delightful hook laden song with serious undertones. “It took a minute” utilizes a rocking Shin’s sound with engaging lofty vocals, nicely cohesive song.
“Reading Signs” has great keyboards, almost like you would imagine them being played before the advent of sequencers. “You’ve got the whole world on your back; it’s amazing you made it at all.” “Reading Signs” is a charming tune, again getting its foot in the door with charm and then lowering the boom with the heavy lyrics.
The track “Charlemagne” Has this cool funky vibe. I really like this song, my favorite on the disc. The vocals are reminiscent of Human League updated for the 2010s. A danceable track, deceptively cheerful then the track switches up to its purpose of deal with heartbreak and desperation. “Anyway you want to say, you’re only your fear, they were preying on.”
“Welcome to the Fire” Bring on early Depeche Mode. An awesome bass moves this song along. Its tight arrangement has no waste. “Welcome to the fire, welcome to the push and shove.” Insightful lyrics again take a typical techno song to another level. Without deft handling and producing “Heart in Two” could have ended up really cheesy. In the band and Swift’s capable hands the result is an honest song about heartbreak. “I can see you’re alone even when you’re near me.”
“Now Look At Me” is a shimmering lovely track, The keyboard motif pins the song down. “Now look at me out of time, pathetic and coming to the end of the line.”
“Would You Want Me” is an excellent summation of what the album posits, which seems to identify the agony of maintaining a smile while taking in bad news. “Would you want me to do, would you want me at all?” The duo utilizes a great brass piece in the middle of the song that really finishes the song off nicely.
A great collection of songs on “Alix” that is extremely listenable and approachable. These guys know their way around the equipment. They demonstrate those skills without the songs only being about their techno abilities. They infuse the album with a party atmosphere via New Orleans, but the lyrics never forget you have to deal with the real world in the morning, a reality filled with everyday concerns and woes. Alone the sounds justify the disc’s existence, the lyrics and vocals are the icing on the cake. I look forward to the next effort from the Generationals.
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