For the uninitiated, we’ll indulge in an ever-ready and always-wanting round of similes, semicolons, and metaphors. To wit, Com Truise sounds like: vibing out to Rad Racer or Super Out Run’s end credit tunes on terminal loop; a brief New Order, Boards of Canada, Vangelis, and Moderat collaboration bent on charting iTunes singles; tracks rejected as too funky and id-obvious for Cliff Martinez’s score to Drive; a 9 PM cruise through the thoroughfares of your home town, for the sole purpose of your emotional health; and, epigrammatically, Chillwave With an Edge (but no malice, thank you).
Throughout Truise’s work, there is a structural yet vague superficiality, and a vague yet structural melancholy. A palpable if pulp-free nostalgia — for whose home we do not know, outside of it being a home of our choosing, a home in this case underwritten by atavistic technologies and aging motherboards. Just queue up Galactic Melt’s “Ether Drift” and think to yourself: this is liquid summer on wheels, and… I’d like another, please.
In Decay, a comp of unreleased and web-only tracks after but one album for Ghostly International, is a result of the compressed and busy career Com Truise’s Seth Haley (née Sarin Sunday, Airliner, et al.) is forging. (An active and engaging self-promoter on Twitter, SoundCloud, Vimeo, and his personal design blogs, Haley also curates a series of self-released 80s synthaphilic DJ mixes in his spare time.) His two main demographics, the voracious blogophagous electronic music community and the flash point droves of young chillwave fans, are aware of Mr. Haley’s every move since 2010’s web-onlyCyanide Girls EP. But it was 2011’s Galactic Melt that found the saleable groove, a sales pitch, and a set of immediately gratifying, slo-mo electro-funk bangers. Com Truise’s cinematic leanings, muted experimentation, and crisp ‘mid-fi’ production bleed crossover appeal. And lest you forget, Mr. Haley loves Boards of Canada enough to start a vanity label with the sole intent of carrying on their downtempo ambient sound. This love adorns the trademark time-refracted, decay-damaged array of synth voices that have survived each appellative iteration.
Musically, an omnipresent tightly compressed kick drum that will take most listeners back to the New Order genus of 80s pop; and robotic hi-hat articulations and the huge, ubiquitous snare hits on 2 and 4 that sound like they’re recorded in their own room. On their own console, as it were. And Truise’s half-time feels allow for wicked double-time dynamics and some propulsive early-aughts commercial hip-hop hi-hats. You might envision Com Truise live as an appealingly cheesy, neon-bedizened three-piece, upright over vintage synths and old Roland drum pads, opaque behind oversized plastic shades and ironic two-week mustaches.
This comp is no hodgepodge half-sib or shiny chrysalis. If anything, its highlights might surpass Melt’s highlights, the easy tease ‘n’ sleaze of “VHS Sex” and the glorious cinematic schlock of “Brokendate” (if you have not yet done so, please: watch the video). Again and again, Haley goes for what might be coined the ‘bass reveal:’ introduce the synth vamp — often woozy, decaying, and camping between prog, 80s pop, and cheap synth-bar jazz — and bam! Bass drum snare groove, massive. “84 Dreamin’” brings its pulsing synth triplets home with a furiously wobbly 16th-note bassline and a slow, minimal lockstep drum pattern.
At its best, In Decay features tracks that really go places. “Alfa Beach” cruises the coast before succumbing to booming floor toms, tasteful mod-wheel-sliding leads, and breaking waves melting the track’s well-paced development back to the pregnant ambience outside. “Video Arkade” leads with a deliciously detuned portamento two-chord vamp rushed along an impatient and imperious groove straight out of 80s Detroit. But Haley still refuses to harness in his song lengths — half of these tracks could end two minutes short of their run times — and pays little attention to sequencing. Yes, even for a comp, the epic Belbury Poly impression “Data Kiss” should wrap the album, and rhythmic redundancies like “Dreambender,” “Klymaxx,” and “Yxes” could have been excised to no one’s loss.
Whither the future of retro-futurism, of this 80s sonic strip-mining? For all the critical accusations of a lack of depth or a certain callowness or hollowness in songwriting, yes: it is a bit odd for a collection of pre-LP tracks to match or surpass their parent release. And maybe nothing but his strongest cuts foretell a robust half-life. So while it may obvious that Haley should now start to explore sounds and motifs exogenous to his coterie of synths, In Decay has an immediacy and satisfying mix that would only benefit an exploration of its hints of Negativland, mid-career DJ Shadow, and mid-2000s IDM. And take a page from the Com Truise Daytrotter sessions and labelmates Tycho: hire a live rhythm section and explore the pocket around the hardware. The riches of 70s prog are only a compound meter away.