As 80s nostalgia has melted into 90s nostalgia with the concluding aughts, some parts of pop music (especially indie pop) have perhaps unsurprisingly slid what’s retro forward, dwelling no longer on the 60s and 70s (revisited psychedelia, disco), but on the 80s, an era that now concluded nearly 20 years ago. Granted, there’ve always been synthesizers. In some circles, the indispensability of the artificial, of the 4/4 dance beat, was never called into question — night clubs and dance pop have always needed the non-acoustic to survive. But even as theme-party attendees have abandoned their sweatbands and side-ponytails for flannel and combat boots, the center-of-the-road alt-pop band has looked to those fads’ temporal predecessors for inspiration. (See: Yeasayer’s Odd Blood, Bear In Heaven’s Beast Rest Forth Mouth, M83’s Saturdays=Youth, etc.)
Enter Abe Vigoda, a Los Angeles quartet up to this point declared by itself and others a “tropical punk” band (and one possessed of perhaps my favorite ridiculous name). But I’m not sure the description holds water anymore, as the Crush-era Abe Vigoda barely resembles its previous incarnations, ones primarily concerned with the quick punk song, terse and terrorizing even as it was bright and melodic.
See, Skeleton, their 2008 breakthrough LP, was a frantic, semi-violent exploration of ecstatic celebratory soundscape, the type of on-speed, deliberately-out-of-tune album you put on a pineapple hat for. It was riddled with cowbell, echoing vocals, and song parts that followed, maniacally, one after the other, quicker than we were ready for them. But for Crush, their fourth LP, even the warped, bendy nature of Skeleton’s songs has disappeared. Especially absent are the noisy freakouts found in numbers like “Live-Long,” moments that assured the audience that, although there was bright melody here, these boys were still capable of doing some damage — just you watch.
Hints of the coming change arrived with 2009’s Reviver EP, with vocalist Michael Vidal heralding the shift with the band’s cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Wild Heart.” His voice on Crush frequently stays brooding and low, mellower than would’ve been required for anything the band produced before. As Vidal channels David Bowie (“Not once but twice…you are my consequential girl”), “Repeating Angel” features a repetitive key part and programmed drums, a Duran Duran knockoff and wildly unexpected when compared to what was. Their stylistic shift was further solidified with the departure of sometime-drummer Gerardo “Reggie” Guerrero, the one who was responsible for their particular brand of manic tropicalia. New guy Dane Chadwick clearly has different ideas, and most of those ideas center around dancehall beats, no less driving, but certainly not so Afrobeat- or Latin-inspired. “Throwing Shade,” the best example of his influence, is absurdly House-inflected, a layer of blissful new wave over a relentlessly thumping backbone.
But once they’ve established the new, synthesizer-heavy sound over the guitar-centric previous punk stylings, they stick to it with admirable dedication. “Sequins” features a keyboard hook as bright and shiny as the song’s title would suggest, straight-up Disney and shimmering pinkness. Likewise, “Dream Of My Love (Chasing After You)” nearly reaches video game music heights; it’s so hyper and electronic. But they’re still Abe Vigoda; the level of melodicism, even when shrouded in such instrumental silliness, lends an air of genuineness to the effort. The songs ring through as earnest if a little lopsided, sarcastic only to reveal the huge, beating heart underneath.
And to be fair, they haven’t lost all instinct for edginess. Although “Dream Of My Love (Chasing After You)” features a meshing of the 80s with a disco beat, it’s still punctuated by a My Bloody Valentine-like whir or drone from time to time. “Crush” similarly contains hints of whining guitar in the background, but it also centers around a synth hook The Killers would covet. Sure, there’s little here that actually sounds like what they’ve done before, but these tracks are certainly recognizable as a progression rather than a complete departure. Perhaps it’s the pace, some indescribable feel, that defines Crush as punk-influenced. Regardless, Abe Vigoda have proven time and again that any attempt at description has a limited shelf life. As fleeting as a crush, Crush’s statement is one for the here and now, even if it sounds like back then, and probably not one that will define Abe Vigoda’s future.