Among the acts mining the long dormant vein of New Wave now, a lot of groups miss the point. They go for that shoulder-swivel punch of Duran Duran or the goofy burble of Yaz/Yazzoo (depending on which continent you are on) but miss what I thought was New Wave's secret weapon - austerity. Depeche Mode, at the height of its powers still had a tremendous amount of air in their songs, holding onto the bottle-breaking-on-the-sidewalk abruptness of the early industrial folks. A group making the rounds right now I could point a finger at would be the ubiquitous The Faint, but that would paint me as an academic punter who doesn't know a good time when I see it.
Fortunately, bass player and founding Fainter Joel Peterson has been hitting the laptop while on tour to flesh out just the austere thing for which I seek in his solo project Broken Spindles. His latest installment Inside/Absent finds him moving farther from the soundscape aspects of the earlier releases and into a delightfully chilly suite of sophisticated songs of self examination. It open with the almost atonal-in-feel piano etude "Inward" before going into the slight pulses of "This Is An Introduction." Peterson's breathy reverbed vocals bring to mind all those great little no-hit-wonders of the era that translated the post-punk youth experience through the circuitry of modern life. "Burn My Body" excellently captures the connection between the likes of Suicide and The Troggs, that the synthesizer has as much business in the garage as a cheap guitar does. In fact If I was to really find an antecedent sonically, I'd say it was the Normal and their big hit "Warm Leatherette." Please Don't Remember This" has a touch of Nine Inch nails to it, but only because he/they in turn wore his/their influences on his/their sleeve. And to finally end my litany of comparison, the beats on "The Distance is Nearsighted" bear more than a passing resemblance to Salt-n-Pepa's ubiquitous classic "Push It" but then that song can probably be found in our DNA now due to over-exposure.
The parts where this album really hits its stride is either in the piano driven pieces like "Desaturated," "Birthday' and particularly the short frosty "Valentine." Here he gets to the meat of his feelings, exposing them to the air not unlike that other famous emotional outburster associated with Omaha's Saddle Creek records. Its on these tracks and on "Anniversary" that Peterson pushes the concept of new new wave out of irony and dancefloor cop-outs most of the acts playing in this field employ and creates some great individualistic music. Personally, I'd like to see him lie heavier on the stark piano songs, but then it wouldn't have the variety to it that keeps this an engaging listen all the way through. The final bit "Painted Boy face" seems like a shoutout to those influences, with the drum mchine-ticks of Trio, the junkyard percussion of mid career Depeche Mode and the busy-signal pulse of Suicide. And on top of being a clever song, and a veritable Cliff Notes for the 80's, it would sound great on the dancefloor too. It took me a couple listens to really get into it, but once I did, I - pun intended - just can't get enough.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com