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Messages

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Album Review

Liverpool duo To My Boy make their full-length debut with Messages, an album of synth pop pastiche unapologetically inspired by pre-Dare! Human League, Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode, early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and the rest of the early-'80s U.K. synth pop scene. They're not genre purists: the booming, heavily reverbed drumbeats of songs like "Eureka" are a stylistic anachronism (outside of Phil Collins, that sound tended to become more omnipresent later in the '80s), they're not afraid of using guitars as well as electronics, and these songs have an almost punky energy level that was anathema to the studied Roxy Music-inspired cool of the original synth pop bands. That's nitpicking, however, because Messages is great fun for anyone who ever coveted a Phil Oakey-style asymmetric haircut. The Sparks-like quirkiness of the hiccupping "Model" ("I have a model for you that I made on my computer") and the propulsive forward drive of the opening "Tell Me, Computer" are particular highlights, as is the tightly wound herky-jerky dance-rock of "Game Over," the album's one homage to the more stylized American form of synth pop à la Devo. Singer/guitarist Sam White has the perfect affected, semi-robotic delivery for this style of music, and he and keyboardist Jack Snape have all the musical elements and/or clichés of Thatcher-era synth pop down cold. Messages is an entirely studied and cold retro move, of course, but it's done with such obvious affection for the style and so many ear-grabbing hooks that the album's utter lack of originality doesn't matter in the slightest.

Messages, To My Boy
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