Pop Etc. are moving further away from the reverb-soaked geek-indie of their previous incarnation, The Morning Benders, to create … well, reverb-soaked, radio-friendly pop music. As with their previous self-titled album, the band shift their style towards inoffensive Top 40 territory and wear their childhood influences on their sleeves. Souvenir is an unashamed homage to the music the band grew up listening to.
There’s a real ’80s and early-’90s dance music/R&B feel to this record, and almost all the tracks would comfortably fit onto a nightclub’s playlist. The guitars are more minimal now, thrown to the back of the mix and only occasionally prominent. Synths are the instrument of choice, and are the driving force for most, if not all, of the melodies. Although this record is clearly inspired by music of yore, this is synth-pop with a very modern-sounding approach to the production that’s reminiscent of current R&B.
While the simplicity of the drums allows the melodies more breathing space, the rhythms barely change, and this can make the listening experience feel repetitive. The beats have a dance-music consistency to them, but lack any sort of diversity. As with the band’s previous offering, the vocals have taken on an auto-tuned sound; and even though no criticism can be pointed at Chris Chu’s vocal ability, the robotic delivery makes me wish for something more organic—some sign that it is a human singing. This can also be said of the instrumentation, which is a carefully constructed, reverb-washed series of innocuous melodies. However shiny the production may be, for a band like this, it’s important to hear a glimmer of the human behind the instrument, even if just occasionally.
Souvenir has the sound of a band playing it safe. It feels like a conscious decision to aim for mainstream success and to tap into a style that is currently very popular. However, it lacks conviction and any sort of sincerity. They’re trying to honor their influences shamelessly, but instead, the result is something closer to parody. Rather than having highs and lows, dynamic shifts in mood or atmosphere, this record plods a middle ground and stays firmly there for its duration.
As their name implies, this is pop music, and could easily appeal to a mass audience, as the songs are instantly listenable and don’t pose any sort of challenge. Souvenir doesn’t break any new ground when compared to their previous work, but still might be worth a listen for fans of bands like The Royal Concept, Passion Pit, Foster the People, Death Cab for Cutie, Maroon 5, and We Are Scientists.
If you heard this record at a club or party, you wouldn’t be begging the DJ to change the record. But at the same time, you wouldn’t be compelled to have a repeat listen any time soon after.
Souvenir out Jan 27.