Over the past few years, there are few influences as pervasive and undeniable in the indie world as New Wave. Whether they’re taken from the big names like The Cure or New Order or the pop hit-makers like a-ha or the Human League, the synth tones and cooing vocals of the ’80s have been a massive force. Few albums take this influence as far as Ice Choir’s debut album, Afar, though. There are few indications on the album’s nine tracks that there’s anything but raw, unadulterated ’80s energy throughout, the tracks bleeding together like a bleary-eyed tribute disc.
Formed as a side project of Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontman Kurt Feldman, Ice Choir pump reanimated ’80s life into the veins of their upbeat tracks like some sort of neon Frankenstein experiment. The electronic bass tones on album opener “I Want You Now and Always” sound straight out of a high-fiving We’re Having Fun Montage from any number of ’80s films, and the cheap bell tones on the title track aren’t far behind. While New Wave fans will be on board immediately, anyone looking for a new take on the all-too-familiar formula will find themselves searching fruitlessly.
The steps away from the expected come largely in the lyrics, couched in the trappings of every trademark possible. The prom-ready grooves of “Teletrips” drip with nostalgia, but lines like “You are a shapeshifting terror/ chasing time ’round the talking table” push into a surreal world that ain’t exactly “Take on Me”. The cheese factor, though, is pumped to 11 in the instrumental, making these innovations confusing at best. While every track carries the same pulse, when that feeling bursts into hyperdrive on “Bounding”, it provides a rare moment of excitement.
The level of cliched borrowing on Ice Choir’s debut is high, and it lacks serious diversity. Songs are tough to differentiate from each other– or to differentiate from any number of similar albums from the last few years or the ’80s albums that those discs borrow from. In the end, Afar is a cheesy disc, and while sometimes the craving for cheese is undeniable, it’s never something you’d want to base your entire diet on.
Essential Tracks: “Bounding”