Love Like Deloreans Love Like Deloreans [EP]

[Friendly Ghost; 2009]

Styles: synth-pop, krautrock, process music
Others: Switched-On Bach, Cluster, Steve Reich, Ratatat

In 1968, Walter Carlos (a.k.a. Wendy Carlos) and Benjamin Folkman turned John Sebastian Bach into a 15-minute pop deity by transposing a handful of his “greatest hits” to an early Modular Moog synthesizer, tediously recreating every lurch of the old divine sewing machine on a custom-built 8-track. Switched On Bach earned the old bewigged master three Grammy Awards, seventeen weeks on the Billboard Top 40, and the post-humous satisfaction of being the first classical composer to go platinum. To Carlos and Folkman’s great pride, it carved out a space for the synthesizer in the West’s pop musical imaginary, eliciting orders for Moog organs everywhere from cushy American recording studios to the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in West Germany, where synth-based krautrock acts Tangerine Dream and Cluster got together for their first group improvisations. Who cares if it needed to be paired with something as tried and true as the Brandenburg concerto for people to listen up? For a hot moment -- just as every new technology has its “hot moment” -- the pulsating, electronic revelation of the analogue synth was the sound of the future.

Flash forward to 2009, when analogue synths are becoming as ubiquitous in independent music as electric guitars once were, and the modernist imperative to look boldly toward the future -- in music, at least -- has become replaced by a sort of “back to the future” mentality, a retro-fantasy of the aesthetic tomorrow that technology once promised. Perhaps there is a generational explanation, then, for why the Brooklyn synth-pop trio Love Like Deloreans -- like the “DeLorean” section of this site -- took their name from the DeLorean DMC-12 that Dr. Emmett Brown uses to transport Marty McFly from 1985 back to 1955. Rather than float in a nebulous and directionless nostalgia, Love Like Deloreans return to 2009 with something very clear in mind: to pick up at the exact moment where Switched on Bach left off, revisiting the advent of an instrument that, in its early stages, was played entirely by hand and whose promise of a brighter tomorrow hinged on the early industrial virtues of technical skill, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Like the album that forms their primary point of reference, Love Like Deloreans exemplify one of those rare collisions of the classical world and the world of pop by simultaneously striking a chord with both. Their self-titled EP, released on the artist-run Friendly Ghost Recordings label, is the culmination of a collaboration that began in 2007, when Wisconsin-native Lorna Krier, a conservatory-trained pianist, met with former composition student Derek Muro at a Bang on a Can Workshop in New York City. Stealing away from abstract discussions of process music and phasing, they got together behind closed doors with fellow Wisconsinite and composition major Peter Pearson, where the three confessed to an equally nerdy obsession with ‘80s dance music, synthesizer message boards, and the autobahn-inspired electronica of Neu! songwriter Klaus Dinger.

If one of the defining characteristics of experimental music is its combination of conceptual difficulty -- destined purely for the mind -- and extreme sensory stimulation -- destined for the body -- then Love Like Deloreans’ music gravitates magnetically toward the latter of these two poles. So much so, that people who do not know their backstory -- the fact that that they derive a good deal of their material from process techniques, for example -- might be tempted to call them straight dance pop or mistake their intricate manual counterpoint for preprogrammed synth runs. Despite all appearances to the contrary, Love Like Deloreans are not another example of conservatory kids tipping their hat to a range of “vernacular” musical styles (here, krautrock and ‘80s club music) to cloak their academic abstractions in a shroud of real-world authenticity. Instead, their music conjures the image of three conservatory kids playing hooky during composition class, running wild in a storeroom full of synthesizers as they down shots of Monster Energy and employ the compositional strategies they learned in school -- the only ones they know -- to honor the eternal refrain from Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children: “What a joy it is to dance and sing!”

Yes, in the thick of an economic recession, staring at the massive failure of “progress” as our forefathers once conceived it, Love Like Deloreans travel back to its aesthetic rudiments (perhaps to see where it all went wrong?) and return to us with a reminder of some of life’s simple joys: joy in the multitudinous voices of seven different synthesizers (some analogue, some not: LLD are not purists) chiming in at once; joy in the upbeat, motorik pulse of a drum machine; joy in playing simple arpeggios and ez-listening chops at breakneck speed. With the group’s more fast-paced numbers (opener “Ollie Mess,” for example), this delight takes the form of filling the room with hallucinations of impossible machines of all kinds -- flying cars and subway trains, subterranean gondolas, hovering skateparks, glass elevators that stretch up past the clouds -- dancing around their synchronized choreography and laughing at how fundamentally extravagant the human imagination can be.

Built, as it is, from the rubble of a fallen dream, this joy can be experienced either wholeheartedly or cynically; lucky for us, Love Like Deloreans never waver for an instant, chugging inexhaustibly forward (“towards what?” we wonder), even when their confections seem simply too saccharine to be true. The dialectic between kitsch and genuine sonic euphoria adds a degree of reflexivity to their music that wouldn’t be there had they specifically aimed for either of them: we can either shake to the one-dimensional digital beat or stand and think about it about flat it sounds. Alternately, we can choose to feel “touched” by Lorna Krier’s soaring synth refrains or recognize how they would probably make a great soundtrack for a Jane Fonda exercise video. Truth be told, we have no reason to stand with our arms crossed and smirk at the pop cultural idioms that -- whether we like what they represent or not -- form such an indelible part of our musical consciousness. Perhaps it is time that we recognize them as our allies, the aesthetic luggage (as opposed to “baggage”) that we get to drag along with us as we continue moving forward.

1. Ollie Mess
2. Epic Highschool
3. Sun Sine
4. Satellite Girls

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