Sacramento, CA band Electro Group are confounding.
It’s been 6 years since the bands last proper full-length album but they’ve kept quite busy via a series of 7″ records, tours, an EP and other bands (including Rocketship and Holy Smokes). Is it possible to welcome back a band I didn’t even know existed until three days ago? I listened to a lot of Rocketship in the latter part of the 1990’s but in the pre-widespread-Internet days if a band wasn’t putting out 7″s and albums constantly it was easy to assume they had just faded away or broken up. I haven’t even thought about Rocketship in years and,needless to reiterate (but I will), I was just turned on to Electro Group three days ago by Mike from Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records. We were on the phone talking about new records and he was practically frothing at the mouth over Electro Group’s newest album Good Technology. I think his exact words were “I want to call the label up and congratulate them on releasing one of the best records this year. It’s that good.” So, of course, I was completely intrigued and hunted it down.
In short, Mike was right. Good Technology is a killer album.
Utilizing the most convenient descriptor possible, Electro Group is a shoegaze band. The only problem is that every single touchstone band of the late 1980’s-1990’s shoegaze/dream-pop/noise-pop scene was impersonal, distant, mysterious and foreign. (Think: My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, et al.) Even when listeners were able to establish emotional connections with a bands music there was rarely a feeling that these were bands one could relate to on a personal level if only because the band personnel were always so doggedly out of reach. Unlike other pop bands, it always seemed as if the shoegaze bands were singing around the listener rather than singing to him. Although this certainly didn’t diminish my love of those bands (and still doesn’t) it remains, in my head at least, that “shoegaze” is inextricably linked with a certain amount of inaccessibility.
Which is why I find Electro Group confounding.
The songs on Good Technology are drenched in fuzzy reverb, killer amounts of melody and distorted bass lines. Every surface feature of this album screams “classic shoegaze” but when listening very closely through the headphones something else is happens. The band is invitingly smooth-throated on tracks like “Trauma”, “The Rule” and “Raise Your Head.” They defy the genre completely on the crystalline “Minutes”. Even on the albums centerpiece (and easily one of the best tracks herein), the massive “Bikini States” Electro Group has an element all those other bands never had:
They sound like nice boys.
That is, one can imagine them sleeping on one’s floor after a show or chatting around a table. I don’t know them so I have no idea if this is true or not. (And, admittedly, “boys” is an intentional misnomer for a group who’s members are all in their thirties.) But the point is that Good Technology has a distinct lack of cruelty that so many of the original shoegaze bands had. Which means the very term itself is in question. If the mood a music projects is just as vital as its instrumentation then it doesn’t seem fair to saddle Electro Group with the shoegaze tag. If, on the other hand, we can open to a term up to new interpretation and, when using it, just sort of have a loose understanding of what we mean when we say it then it’s probably OK. Electro Group certainly has the composition skills equal to Ride. I just got this album about 20 hours ago and have already listened to it 5 times through if that says anything for it’s addictiveness.
And the whole point of this is not to endlessly pigeonhole, delegate and categorize a band who is simply making records they want to make. I’m not questioning the band. I’m questioning me and my own assumptions. And I’m very happy to have Electro Group as the soundtrack for my attempts at genre-busting.
(Unfortunately, no MP3s are available for Electro Group but please visit their MySpace page and listen to the samples there. Buy Good Technology here or at your local record shop.)