Twitch the Ripper
Synthpop is a songwriter’s genre. For all the other qualities that have traditionally defined it (like futurism, the human relationship with technology, and the ambiguity and mutability of sexuality, to name a few), it’s always the quality of the songs, the “pop” rather than the “synth”, that has differentiated it from other forms of electronic music. In that regard, Twitch the Ripper’s debut for Metropolis records is very classically synthpop, but beyond the surface level aesthetics, it’s the way the songs on Colorblind are presented that makes them or breaks them.
What makes up a good song is of course totally arbitrary, but for the sake of this review let’s assume in synthpop it’s the intersection of melody and performance, the overall catchiness that’s most important. By that standard Twitch the Ripper have acquitted themselves with a few gems. “Rabid” is a textbook earworm, a hummable chorus paired with a peppy bassline and chiming leads that favorably recalls Low-Life era New Order. The even more upbeat “Strange Behavior” amps it up even further, the relatively conservative choices in instrumentation and synth voices laying bare the fully realized bit of pop workmanship at its heart. And “No Expression” has a free-wheeling melancholy in its vocal delivery and a speedy interplay of bass and drums that speaks softly to the Connecticut duo’s history in punk and hardcore bands, one of the few moments that breaks free of the album’s self-imposed sense of restraint.
Aside from those songs however, the album gets mired in mid-tempo crooning just a few times too often. In the case of “What the Moon Brings” and “Shimmers” there’s a decent hook to be had once you get past the journeyman verses, sadly too little to elevate them beyond being just okay. “Foundations” and “We Won’t Talk About It” lack even that; while technically fine from a compositional standpoint they’re suffocated by a delivery that feels more calculated than emotive. Detached can work as a stylistic choice (for example the spoken parts on “Hard to Love” play nicely against the pleading chorus to nice effect), but when the parts that sound like they’re trying to be impassioned come off as clinical it hobbles the whole song.
The LP benefits from an ultra clean, full-bodied, studio sheen, courtesy of producer Mark Saunders, whose work with luminaries like Erasure, The Cure, and Alison Moyet attests to his familiarity with the LP’s form. Saunders’ CV also includes co-production credits on Tricky’s Maxinquaye and Neneh Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi, which seems less germane to Colorblind. Consider this, however: he all of all people would know how soulfulness and the synthetic can compliment one another, and presumably how to achieve the appropriate balance between them. Given that, why does the mark get hit so infrequently here? I have no doubt that the songs I like aren’t total flukes, they’re simply too polished and considered to be accidents. If forced to guess I’d say it’s not the content, it’s the communication; Twitch the Ripper have good ideas, but it’s only when they focus on getting them across that their value is apparent.