Jondi & Spesh, Pleasurecraft
The Answer, Lost Patterns
“[Human League singer Phil] Oakey… always talked about writing ‘proper’ songs, ‘like Abba or Earth, Wind and Fire.’ The idea of electronic pop is a bit of a red herring. Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and others all found fame and fortune by playing classically-structured pop songs with new-fangled instruments.” —Like Punk Never Happened, Dave Rimmer.
The strongest feature of each of these CDs is the sound coming out of now old-fangled machines. So what hope do I have for the songs involved? A fair amount, actually.
A bit more for Pleasurecraft, perhaps. Half of this Seattle band was in a late, lamented (by me, anyway) local band called the Cinematics, so I know they know better vocals and melodies when they hear them. And it’s early enough in both bands’ careers (this is Pleasurecraft’s second release, Jondi & Spesh’s third) that a critic can afford to give them the benefit of doubt.
If they can find a more rewarding balance of their strengths and weaknesses, they might establish stronger voices that will make them real favorites of fans of the genre. As is, neither really hold your attention all the way. But if Pleasurecraft can loosen up a bit from their overly sequenced tracks, and Jondi & Spesh can establish a stronger vocal identity, who knows?
Melodies are a bitch. It’s not as though songwriting isn’t hard enough, but after you’ve come up with a fabulous backing track, try introducing a melody that soars above it and yet feeds into it perfectly (and vice versa), the way coals stoke a fireplace. Truly great electronic pop artists (Pet Shop Boys, OMD) married classic pop melody and groundbreaking sounds. And came up with enough of these to make a career.
Lately, though, I find that discs I receive from the sometimes-called “Nu Wave” try to make it on only one out of three. And that ain’t enough. Both Lost Patterns and The Answer emphasize synthesizers, with Pleasurecraft featuring more guitars, as well. Both are largely let downs in the vocals department. It’s not necessary for the vocalist of a synth-pop band to be all that perfect technically (no one would accuse Neil Tennant or Andy McCluskey of that). But such singers’ shortcomings often became the imperfect human element against their bands’ polished sonic sheen, lending it much of its expression and emotion. This is noticeably lacking in Jondi & Spesh’s singing, or My Young and Kirk Bentley’s for Pleasurecraft.
Jondi & Spesh do better on three tracks in collaboration with Sez Giulian, who if they were asking me for career advice, I would say should be asked to join the group on a permanent basis ASAP.
In both cases, music is a highlight; Jondi & Spesh offer “alternative” charged arrangements of their digital disco. Starting with the galloping title song, they show a cheerful knack for this, but don’t have much to say with it (“Can you remember the first color you ever saw?”). Pleasurecraft go for a more propulsive, fragile and smooth space-pop/dance sound that is rather wonderful. But also more obvious in its homage; “Save My Breath” is a take-off on “See You”-era Depeche Mode, for example.
Those interested in bumping booties, having us a ball, y’all are going to want a little more Jondi & Spesh. Those who like feeling down more than getting down (and you know who are) are advised to try a few tracks of Pleasurecraft.
“In the end, I’m not sure that synthesizers themselves are that important…They are just tools. If you’re trying for pop success, the important thing is the song.” — Phil Oakey, as quoted by Rimmer