Connecticut-based electronic act Twitch The Ripper – the duo of Jon Dobyns (vocals, synths and guitar) and Lonn Bologna (programming, synths and drums) has been gaining more and more attention since the release of their 2009 EP Don't Go Out Tonight, and thanks to their cross-pollination of electro soundscapes with more conventional pop & rock styles, they've been able to tour alongside artists from many different genres – including FEARnet faves Combichrist and The Birthday Massacre. But it's their moody, '80s-influenced melodies and vocals that tie the whole package together, and that element has led many listeners to compare them favorably with the post-punk icons of that decade, including New Order and Depeche Mode. Not too shabby for a band that's only been on the scene for a couple of years.
Their first full-length album Bodiless came out this week, and we gave this disc a spin to find out what the buzz is all about. Read on for the full review!
Bodiless boasts some heavyweight studio talent, including multiple Grammy winning producer Phil Magnotti and mastering engineer Emily Lazar (whose mile-long list of credits includes David Bowie and Lou Reed), so it's a given that the production will be top-notch... but that would be all for nothing without solid songwriting at the core. Fortunately this pair handles that task pretty well, and they also manage to move away from a lot of the typical goth/electro conventions, choosing instead to dig down to the early '80s roots of those genres – when bands were first exploring the potential of electronic instruments and creating sounds no one had heard before. In this age of auto-tune, sample loops and virtual instruments, it's a nice break to step back to those try-anything days. Not that this band is really that interested in copying the sounds of that era; they're actually more focused on tapping into the feel of it. “There are elements and specific feelings that are reminiscent of post punk and '80s electro that I believe are good 'what's to come' representations for us,” Dobyns says... and this record puts that idea into action.
The opening track “Disconnected” – also the album's first single – establishes most of the band's core elements: modern club-friendly beats running beneath smooth and melancholy vocals strongly reminiscent of Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan and New Order's Bernard Sumner, with a few well-placed guitar accents. Those '80s influences run from the vocals down through the old-school analog synth sounds, but they mesh surprisingly well with the more modern rhythms. The title track is a darker and more subtle spin on this style, but kicks into a cool heavy drum break midway through. “Bright Is Impossible” departs a bit from the standard pop/rock approach, but the driving, punchy bass line and warm tone make it one of the most memorable tracks, calling to mind early German electronic pioneers like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.
Things take a darker turn with “Never Got You Anywhere,” an ominous but dance-oriented thumper with chunky bass and sweeping, reverb-heavy vocals. “Keep Me Cold” lacks the dynamics and intensity of the other tracks, but its complex rhythms recall the early sound of Matt Johnson's famous post-punk project The The. “Body Blue” is another strong entry, with lighter vocals, breathy synths and more emphasis on guitar, building a warm and organic vibe, and “Eternity” weaves a heavy kick-drum pattern with infectious metallic percussion to create a pensive darkwave tune that blends well with the vocals. “Nurse Price” is a darker, spookier cut, thanks to an ominous buzzing bass pattern and sensual vocals, but the strongest combination of these elements comes during the trance-like cut “A Place For Polaris,” which has a soaring, cosmic feel that peaks with tons of synth and guitar layers, ending the album on a cinematic note.
You don't have to have grown up in the early '80s to appreciate the retro flavor of Bodiless. In fact, even if you come into it without any feelings of nostalgia for that decade, these songs will sound surprisingly new. While the themes and melodies are dark and ominous, there's a warmth to the songs that elevates them above more generic goth-electro fare. Maybe the album might have benefited from greater variety and more guitar in the mix, but there's a lot to be said for a consistent and recognizable style in this genre, and these guys have defined their sound well enough to earn them some staying power.