Satellite Lot Sleepwalk in a Burning Building

[Self-Released; 2008]

Styles: new romantic, synthpop, electroclash
Others: Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys

Given the panoply of sounds and styles finding purchase in the indie music community lately, what are young, earnest songwriters to do? One path is to emphasize your stylistic malleability, hoping that your songcraft will shine in many different settings. Following up their ambitiously genre-hopping debut Second Summer, Satellite Lot's second outing, Sleepwalk in a Burning Building, explores another option -- finding a core sound and arranging songs around it. In this case, the sonic moment being referenced is the early 1980s, a risky move given the number of acts that have revived it (and quickly disappeared) recently. However, Satellite Lot prove worthy, and the result is a cohesive set of songs whose value will long outlast any cyclical revival.

The sound here is much more of a dark, sophisticated Depeche Mode than a jangly Cure. It's a style they tinkered with on "Double Yellow Lines," from their debut, though in that instance, minimalism was the driving force. Hardly keeping it static, these tracks stand out by way of their distinct elements. Although "Up against the Far Right Wall" starts things off in style, the first song to really grab you has to be "Never Again." The bouncy synth and rock-solid drums make for an intoxicating mix that should get even the most reluctant dance floor moving, but there's so much more to it than its rhythmic core. Expertly recorded and mixed by band member Casey McCurry, it consists of a chugging guitar riff, a more slender, sinewy lead guitar line, a screeching synth sound, and of course an engaging vocal melody, all of which help the song transcend your typical new new-wave club track. And if one gets sucked into the song enough, the lyrics provide even further reward in their nuanced dissection of the myriad emotions associated with the end of a relationship.

Separation is the dominating theme, but not in any homogeneous way. In fact, there is an almost track-for-track question-and-answer scenario that plays out. Answering "Never Again"'s vulnerable and emotional appeal to the lost friend or lover, "Liberation Front" speaks self-assuredly as the voice of a leader not afraid to be the lone explorer in the cyberfrontier. Sonically, it plays like Human League-meets-mariachi-horns, but avoids sliding into cheese, due to the breathy, angsty vocals from McCurry. Then, "Disappointed" has Aaron Hautala's lead expressing another, more tentative and self-deprecating vision of seeing oneself after a separation. This alternating pattern weaves a complex tapestry, depicting much of the spectrum one experiences when entering the sticky realm of the interpersonal.

Of course, for some listeners, the lyrics will play a secondary role, which is understandable given the instrumental strength of Sleepwalk in a Burning Building. For those looking for a sleek trip back to the best of '80s synthpop/rock, this is undoubtedly a great ticket. But even for those who think that that sound is played out -- or that it should never have been revived -- Sleepwalk in a Burning Building might cause them to reconsider.

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