“While waiting in the bread line/to collect your crumbs/Give thanks to the master/Whose table they fall from” is the first lyrical couplet on Plague Pits’ Creatures, the words delivered wryly against a throwback synthpop instrumental. That track, “The Dignity of Serfdom”, is a pretty clear mission statement from the Swiss collective, encapsulating both the political and social perspectives that define the record lyrically, and the classic synth stylings of its instrumentation.
There’s a careful balance at play here, one that the record’s success hinges upon: trading on inherently nostalgic musical ideas and sounds, without having them overshadow the actual material. Plague Pits’ approach is to keep things fluid and not drink too deeply from any specific well of inspiration. While the aforementioned “The Dignity of Serfdom” and “Beasts of the Field” put me in mind of The Human League pre-Dare with their snappy drum programming and nice clean mix, there’s a distinctly more punky energy at play on the manic Normal-esque “Like Drowning”. They even nod to genre forebearers on instrumentals “Polyethylene” and “Lights Out for the Territory”, which are possessed of the dignified and wistful air of the earliest strains of electronic pop.
Interestingly, you can easily see the way in which the album’s thematics – urban and techological alienation, social and religious hypocrisy – feel both appropriate to the retro-flavour of the record and relevant to the current political climate. You could easily be forgiven for assuming “Ghost Acreage”‘s screed against the dehumanizing nature of labour in a capitalist society hailed from Thatcherite Britain, but the warehouses it invokes could just as easily belong to Amazon. In that same way, there’s a timelessness to the mock piety with which “Magadalene” makes its point about coded ideas of ‘purity’ and its use as a means of control that is depressingly easy to relate to current conservative political movements. Hell, “01001010010” uses a sample of a reading from “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” in lieu of any original lyrics, pinpointing that story’s prescient view of our relationship with technology in ways that feel pointed in a way the toothless satire of Black Mirror can only dream of.
For all of that, there’s no getting around the fact that if original school synthpop is of no interest to you, you’re unlikely to find much to enjoy about Creatures. Those with a yen for those classic sounds, with complimentary and still pertinent messaging should find plenty in Plague Pits’ approach to chew on.