Music Reviews

Artist: Ctrl (@)
Title: lost in static
Format: CD
Label: Diffusion Records (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
Two CDs came across my review desk recently (although the releases are not too recent, which is pretty typical in the Chain D.L.K. world) and although I don't usually do reviews this way, for something different, I'm doing a comparative review. There are enough similarities (although by no means does the music of the two bands sound the same) and they even share a key joint member (Brad McAllister - programming, synth, voice & guitar,) but also enough differences to warrant it. The commonality to the bands, Ctrl (reviewed here) and Low Technicians (reviewed after) is a retro-80s synthpop sound, and although you can hear their influences, there is no one band in particular either one of them sound like. It is rather an amalgam of elements you know you've heard before. They also both happen to come from Austin, Texas.

Of the two, Ctrl has the more distinctive vocalist in Alex Virlios. It's a strong, highly stylized voice the likes of which I know I've heard before but can't put my finger exactly on. Sort of like if you took the voices of Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory, Eskil Simonsson of Covenant and Tom Shear (Assemblage 23), distilled it and blended it into one. This is both a boon and a bane for Ctrl- on the plus side it gives them an instantly recognizable lead vocalist. On the minus side, there is very little variation in that voice. And if there isn't enough diversity in the songs on an album, it can get old quickly. Unfortunately, it does.

The album opens up well enough with 'Dark Lords of Insomnia' heralded by bubbly analogue synth. It's a retro potpourri of sound and rhythm preened and groomed for the dancefloor. Like a well-oiled machine everything is aligned; synths, guitar, rhythm, not a hair out of place. It's a strong start but there is one thing lacking'¦a good solid hook, Next track ('Your Secrets') continues chugging along these lines, with a bit more upfront guitar. Sounds not much different than the track before it, which I think is due to Alex's vocal phrasing. There's a bit more of a hook, but a weak melody bogs it down. If there is one thing good synthpop really needs, it's the 'killer hook'. The next track 'Groove' lyrically contains sentiments about some one-popular, now has-been band- 'I stopped going to your shows'¦.I stopped buying all your records in the nineteen-nineties, no more listening to your prose, no more jungle shit for me, I just want to tear you down until there's nothing left for me'¦' not too virulent, eh? Wonder who they were talking about'¦

Next song ('Head On') has a loping bass synth groove reminiscent of 'Blue Monday'. Fortunately, it doesn't sound like New Order. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like the previous tracks (due to Alex's vocals) in spite of more diversity in the synth programming and guitar. Not getting any good hooks here either. Finally, on the title track ('Lost in Static') we get a really good hook. This is easily the best track on the album. Very memorable and well done. Classic stuff. Even Alex's unvarying vocal phrasing works for it. 'No Answer' which follows reminds me somewhat of OMD. Guitar is more predominant and Alex's voice is more melodic and his stylized phrasing less dominant. One small gripe; when they had an opportunity to modulate the key up (a third?) for a big finale, they passed on it. Too bad. Next track 'I Can't Keep' has a pretty good hook. 'My Guest' has synth programming right out of Martin Ware's playbook, and guitar out of Will Seargeant's fakebook. Not a bad combo at all. 'We Are All Lost' is another track with a decent hook. So far, Ctrl is batting about 400. Any major league hitter would be happy with that stat. Last track 'The Underground Rain' is a mish-mosh of echoed industrial synth sounds with some atmospheric guitar, set to a slow freight train rhythm loop. Alex's vocals are brief and somewhat subdued. For me, this was just throwaway space filler.

I think most of the tracks on this album probably work better live than as a listening experience. The rhythm is definitely geared to the dancefloor; basic stuff. Don't get me wrong though, I like the band. I just think they need more material on a par with 'Lost in Static' and 'No Answer'. These guys have been around for ten years or more. I think it's about time to get crackin'. Next, we'll see how their counterpart, Low Technicians fare. I think you'll be surprised.

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