We can all agree that there is an Eighties revival of sorts going on now. Every broom closet hosts its own little new wave flashback night, Culture Club is touring, and Numan is making a fool of himself again. The problem is, this whole phenomenon has a faint whiff of embarrassment about it, too much graverobbing. Ah, but pockets of resistance are rising up in the unlikeliest of places – Long Hind Legs, Fosca, the reunited Gene Loves Jezebel, Love And Rockets’ reinvention, and now, AMP??? Oh darling yes, and (though Richard AMP will probably kill me), I’ve got evidence. First, he’s pared AMP down to a duo, just like Soft Cell, DAF, Erasure, all of the best. It’s just Richard and Karine Charff (vocals) standing alone. Second, this album has every bit of the glacial calm, distance, disaffection, and quiet longing that made groups like Japan and John Foxx’s Ultravox so very romantic and European. Yes, this is a distinctly European-sounding record, and I am fucking thankful for it. We’ve had enough of clumsy confessions and generic chest-beating. We want poise and culture. Proof positive, the first ten seconds of “You Are Here” sounds uncannily like “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys, only grittier. Karine intones “Songe” in a weary and apathetic French tone, more a whisper than anything else, over weary piano lines and I’m thinking of Jane Birkin. Third, AMP display the futurism and experimentation that was so much an essential part of 80’s new romantic and new wave.
If you were fortunate enough to hear AMP Studio earlier this year, you will be surprised that much of this album is piano-based. However, this is by no means a tactical retreat to more well-traveled musical paths. The piano pieces are spare and haunting, layered over with percussion loops and found sound to add to the mystique. This form is perfected very early on with “Tomorrow,” a sob-inducing mix of scattered beats, looped piano, and Xanax vocals. There are instrumental interludes present, most notably the guitar drone/dub rhythm collage of “Zoe” and especially the isolationist “Two 3.” Just as they do live, AMP often lock into somnolent trances that leave you either nodding your head to the beat or nodding off (see “Tango Non”). But the essence of AMP is in how effortlessly they can shift from a surprisingly fragile and accessible piece like “Sunflower” to the initial improvised chaos of “Just-Ice.” This chaos, in turn, falls away to reveal a naked piano interlude that finally collapses itself. My only complaint with the record is that it ends with two discordant movements, “Bibloquet” and “Outlier,” that jar against the flow of the record. I’m sure I’ll get over it.
Snatch this one up, file it next to Autechre or the Cranes – or even the Human League. I’m not trying to start a scene or anything, but I think we should all know what side we’re on now. Kranky Records, P.O. Box 578743, Chicago, IL 60657