(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, March 26, 2010

CD review - Scanners, Submarine (2010)

Cheeriness is for suckers. Scanners don't suffer, they luxuriate in their low key mood. It's not quite simple depression, but more of a sense of dissatisfaction and ennui. Submarine has a pervasive '80s synthpop veneer, with vocalist Sarah Daly drifting from Terri Nunn (Berlin) to Dale Bozzio (Missing Persons) to Deborah Harry.

At the same time, they've updated the synthpop aesthetic to include some more club oriented dance beats. Jesus Saves grafts a disco rhythm and tight repetitive fills onto a Berlin-style vocal and a New Order bass line. The upbeat groove contrasts with the resignation of the lyrics:
The weight of your ambition
Has worn the carpet thin
With no cure for your condition
So far under your skin

It's a shame, we all have a sell-by date
Shop where Jesus saves
It's a compelling combination.

My favorite track, though, is the single, Salvation. The staccato guitar drives the song forward against a moody vocal. When the drum beat comes in strong, it concentrates the intensity. There a deceptive simplicity here. It reminded me of some of Patti Smith's work off Easter, except Daly's voice is less expressive. This is music for late night driving - what are you running from? Listen to this too long and it might be the stalking singer of Salvation.
Dark eyes become divine
I need the love I crave
Your hands they burn like mine
I'll take you to my grave

The mood shift from Salvation to the following shimmery Beatles sound of Baby Blue is like a refreshing digestif.

While Baby Blue offers a little taste of Blondie, it's stronger in Sleepwalking. Here, the insistent beat and call-and-response vocals create a tension that opens up into a pretty Blondie pop feel. The drum beat stays steady, but a change in the instrumental backing and vocal tones go a long way to creating a more hopeful sound. The balance between the parts is more interesting than either part would be alone.

Scanners have made a well crafted album, but that might be its biggest flaw. The parts fit together so well, that there's not much spontaneity or expressiveness. Depending on the mood, Submarine may or may not satisfy. Mix the perfect G&T and give it a listen.

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