If you’re anything like me, you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole that is trying to categorize electronic music. It forces you to ask yourself, ‘Is this post-Wonky, standard Wonky, or Post-Post Dubstep?’ I understand the desire to carve a little nook for yourself in the vast ocean of electronic music, but more than likely your introduction to the genre was through the same looking-glass as mine: well-written pop music. Songs: straight, no chaser (or in this case, sans indecipherable vocals or warped sound filters. Which I love as well, by the way). In the late 70′s/early 80′s, pop music morphed into this addictive amalgam of love and heartbreak on the modern dance floor, and we all revelled in its layers of clicks, bloops, and aching electricity. Brilliant in its progressive melodic and emotional complexity, it was no doubt created with the idea in mind that you should move your body to it. New Order, Depeche Mode, The Human League, Tear for Fears (and more recent favorites like the Junior Boys, Sally Shapiro, or The Tough Alliance) all married traditional pop songwriting with cutting edge music technology to great effect. That potent mixture of synthesizers, drum loops, hooks, and a wounded heart is undeniably powerful, and it’s ability to entice unsuspecting romantics into doomed love affairs still haunts the dark, cramped dance spaces across the globe. With that in mind, I found it fascinating that two of my favorite EPs of 2010 were both respectful of that legacy (and also recorded by artists who currently reside in Saint Louis) – US English (whose What Frontier EP was last featured in our MOTH RECOMMENDS) and of course, Née (a.k.a Kristin Dennis).
The Hands of Thieves EP is notably absent of the (sometimes self-imposed) restraint and icy detachment found in a lot of ”electro-pop”; There’s too much hot blood and vitality coursing through the veins of the orator of these 5 tracks for that. There’s no sense that the songs were written and performed by some debutante suffering from jet lag after DJ gig in Paris. No, this is the sound of a girl landlocked in the Midwest, plagued by bad decisions, thwarted romances, and is swimming in a river of rail whiskey as deep as the Missouri River. Is it so wrong that she just wants to party, dance, and try to forget about how bad her choices of potential suitors has been recently? That acute framework allows emotionally direct lyrics to jaunt past you like, ”If you’ve got a lover, my love, keep her far from me/keep her name off your tongue and teeth/and her smell off your shirt sleeves”, with a rather delightful whimsicality featured in the pulsing opening track “Absolom”. And when she gets the spirit and spits the dizzying, rich prose of the stomping “Magic Love”, she turns the dance floor into her own little congregation, with her lips pressed firmly against a hot, sweat-drenched microphone. And it’s about that time that you start to realize that beneath all these clopping beats and catchy hooks, this isn’t just some hollow music manufactured solely for a mass of uncoordinated bodies- these are songs, and she’s a songwriter. The EP is filled to the brim with the causal, yet potent, heartbreak common in our era of 140-character sentiments and BAC-influenced judgement calls. It shares a tone and atmosphere similar to what worked best on Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in Digital Urn. And like the best songs written by Oberst, there’s always a new dimension waiting to reveal itself through multiple listens.
…But, I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet. When she dials it down ever so slightly on the last (and title) track of the EP, she knocks it out the park. Seriously, “The Hands of Thieves” (available to download right here) has the ability to be a massive hit (You heard it here first). It’s a song that’s instantly addictive, yet subtle, in the way it incorporate layers of shivering harmonies, fleeting electric guitar, and gently floats you into a climatic wash of feedback. It’s such a fitting ending that you’ll no doubt restart the EP almost instantaneously, laying down the foundation that will soon become the sugar-coated Möbius strip that The Hands of Thieves EP has trapped all of the contributing members of MOTH.
(The fact that this EP is available for your listening pleasure free of charge at http://www.nee-music.com is almost criminal. It also works well as a double-header with another fantastic EP recorded under the namsake of Olga Bell, the Bell EP (available on iTunes). Give it a spin and post your thoughts on our listening stream.)