I don’t make any bones about defending Mars Argo. The duo, the cutey pie Mars Argo and the not-so-aptly named Titanic Sinclair, deserve your ire. They’re the worst kind of hipster scum; the album’s three little interludes are, from what I can gather, gargled communications either boasting or bemoaning technology and consumerism and being lonely and in love. But when the pretentiousness drops even momentarily, they make intriguing pop music.
Argo’s voice is Kewpie doll sweet. And for some reason, her attention has been drawn to the gangly and effeminate Sinclair and whatever chemistry they have plays out like a creepy cocktail of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Jack and Meg White. “Sideways and Sideways” is the better example of her voice. It’s a mix of crackling effects and Space Odyssey synth, a drum machine programmed by a junior high kid, and an old beat up guitar strummed by the aforementioned awkward man-child. It’s haunting in the way a bad high school drama stays with you, but its sort of sweet and bubbly nature is unbelievably appealing. “Suicide Birds” is right up there, too. The guitar playing picks up a step or two but keeps the same chug-along mentality. It splits the wide open void with a guitar that distorts in and out.
If Argo isn’t singing like some pre-pubescent Nancy Sinatra, then she’s pouting like the best sex kitten she can muster, shortly before a painfully anguished and vastly minimized guitar breakdown burns down a semi-depressed synth that sounds like more interstellar harmonics. “Mrs. Stadler” finds Argo at her most dramatic; think an elementary school rewrite of Simon & Garfunkel mixed with some 12-year-old Madonna harmonizing. Sinclair himself sounds more like a coffeehouse virtuoso. Throw in that jangly guitar and bubbly keys and the song is chaotic and steady if nothing else. They don’t even sound like they’re singing the same song or coming from the same place, an authentic and unnerving touch that makes for a neat dynamic. And the point is that so much of this is amateur, but it’s admirable how it works so well within the dynamic of the band. Any other act and the levels of douchey-ness would be too much to bear. Here, we’re let in on the theatricality. Even if we want to turn away from the stage, we can’t.
“Tired Today” is a place where the dynamic tends to fall apart. Here, Sinclair tries his hand at his best John Lennon circa “Imagine”. The ethereal male vocals and acoustic guitar are boring. And when everything explodes into a drum heavy, synth-fueled rocket explosion, Argo’s “lalala” vocals are overpowered and the furthest thing from cute. It’s a perfect example of the balance the band requires and a momentary lapse of hipster sensibilities: Things got too real, emotions and musical exploration took control, and they went and made a big strumming mess. “Technology Is A Dead Bird” finds Sinclair channeling Lennon again, but with a little more off that pre-testicle dropping vibe. Its mix of vocal interlude and guitar make it an ode that is, in the slightest way, the most authentic. By the time Argo comes in with the most seductive sounding, high-pitched singing of the album, Sinclair gets the courage to do his best desperado sound, which he does while riding a hopeful and bigger-than-ever synth wave. It inspires an iota of ecstasy, which is a feat for these two to say the least. “You Don’t Know Me Anymore” is pretty generic. The emotional guitar solo throws another temper tantrum with all the emotion stemming from a bad papercut. Not helping is the intro of Argo’s bland monotone. Her voice has a certain level of blandness, but it’s alluring because of that intangible quality to it, a tone that generates mass hypnosis and slight emotional tingling. If “Mrs. Stadler” rewrote ’60s folk pop, then “Machine” is a butchering of the beloved genre. A harmonizing synth and tribal chants only make me think they dropped out of NYU.
This is a couple of star-crossed art students who are making love songs in the vacuum of space. But you have to love the feel of the sound, that artificial jingle-jangle and the sheer ambiance. There, now do your worst.
Technology is a Dead Bird