Last year I got my first listen to the chilling flashback vibe of Twitch the Ripper, a Connecticut-based electro duo whose first full-length album Bodiless (check out our review here) gave a major boost to their profile on the electro-pop circuit and had music reviewers – yours truly included – comparing them favorably to iconic artists New Order and Depeche Mode, thanks to their smooth blend of deep moody vocals and guitar by frontman Jon Dobyns, layered analog synth textures and haunting but infectious electronic rhythms by multi-instrumentalist Lonn Bologna. That upswing in popularity landed them touring gigs with gothic power-pop legends (and FEARnet favorites) The Birthday Massacre, heavy-beat pioneers Nitzer Ebb and industrial icons My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. The pair have emerged from the studio once again with their sophomore album Colorblind, which is scheduled to drop tomorrow. I've got a review of the record waiting for you below, along with a preview track... so read on and listen up!
In the same mode as Bodiless, the band has cast aside most of the modern conventions of electronic dance music and tapped into the early '80s source of the post-punk/new wave sound – a frontier where most of the technology which musicians now take for granted was still out of reach to all but the wealthiest artists, and instinctive on-the-fly improvisation led to some amazing new sounds. Dobyns and Bologna also embrace the moody Euro-pop song structures of that era, which makes a perfect setting for Dobyn's hauntingly romantic vocals. For Colorblind, the pair called on the talents of producer Mark Saunders – an ideal choice, given his track record with gothic rock legends like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as retro synth-pop unit Shiny Toy Guns. The mood running through Colorblind is distinctly darker than its predecessor, with a certain feeling of tension beneath the smooth melodic surface; that edginess comes in the form of a quickened heartbeat, with slightly faster tempos and more shifts in song patterns. While Bodiless was a solid dance record from start to finish, Colorblind kicks up the energy even higher, but never at the expense of solid melodic hooks and thought-provoking lyrics.
The opening track “Safe House” is a suitably dramatic start, with a punchy, buzzing bass line and an urgent and hooky chorus that builds intensity with a double-time beat at the midway point. The '80s synthpop vibe kicks into overdrive in the more upbeat “Strange Behavior,” which syncs deep plucked guitar with bell tones calling up the spirit of New Order. “Foundations” has a spookier rhythmic undercurrent reminiscent of Matt Johnson's The The, and the same underlying tension continues though “Take Me to Oblivion,” but with a more modern four-to-the-floor rhythm and a less conventional, more minimalist song structure; it's definitely one of the darkest cuts on the album, and one of my favorites. While you'd expect a song titled “Rabid” to possess plenty of energy – and it does, especially at the creepy breakdown – you might be surprised to find some of the album's brightest, most upbeat melody lines.
While there's nothing really resembling a ballad on Colorblind, “We Won't Talk About It” comes close, with a softer, more pensive vocal line and a softly shuffling beat. The bouncy arpeggios, steel drum rhythms and thin synth leads of “Hard to Love” are a little bit too glitzy for my taste, but the chorus has some inventive key changes that inject some edge into it. Despite its title, “Shimmers” is actually one of the warmer, softer tracks, with a cool bent piano tracking beneath the vocals. “What the Moon Brings” captures a dreamy mood with wavering sampled choirs and a glassy bell-tone keyboard lead, given extra warmth thanks to a soulful baritone guitar. The tempo jumps up several notches in “No Expression,” a simpler tune designed to get your pulse racing. Opening on an unusual waltz time signature, “Chameleon” goes from light to heavy in an instant, boasting the most sweeping production on the album, though it stumbles a little bit when switching back to a standard dance beat for the finale. “Not a Soul in Sight” brings back the darker tones for a suitably dramatic final curtain, and a cool salute to Depeche Mode's Violator era.
If you dig the dark, melancholy melodies, solid beats and silky-smooth synth washes of early electro-pop (either for nostalgic reasons, or simply as a breather from more aggressive techno, electro-industrial and EBM), you've probably been onboard with Twitch the Ripper ever since I first wrote about them last year. But as solid a debut as Bodiless turned out to be, Colorblind is a strong and clear step toward the band's development of a trademark style, which itself is more enduring than just a classy homage to their influences. It's astounding how they've been able to build so well on that foundation in the span of a single year, but I'm already eager to hear what they come up with next.