Social relevance and accessibility have been at odds for many a battle in contemporary music. There is a whole host of bands that know WHAT they want to say, but don’t quite know how to articulate it into something primed for mass consumption. On the other hand, you have a band like the Talking Heads, who can make acute social observations while pushing the boundaries of “pop” music, while simultaneously rocking both sides of the brain and your body for good measure (i.e. Remain in Light). It brings me great pleasure to say that US English falls into that latter category while giving Saint Louis some wholly digestible, forward-thinking electronic music with their inaugural release of the What Frontier EP.
James and Brea McAnally are involved in so many different projects around St. Louis that I find it fascinating that they have the time to build, sculpt, and arrange such beautiful, compelling tracks. From the opening strains of “What Frontier”, the themes of the gut-wrenching, panic-inducing anxiety that is our modern landscape are crystal clear. Is it the foreboding sense of dread of some faceless, nameless apocalypse looming over our heads that troubles us, or is it the fear of what we’re even going to be able to accomplish in a post-apocalyptic world that concerns us? That dichotomy is the narrative breadth of the 4 song E.P., the first in a series that you’ll no doubt anticipate seeing how they cohesively align to what we’ve heard so far. Let’s talk details: Refreshingly, Brea’s vocal contributions are not merely assigned to the background (i.e. insert vaguely beautiful female voice here), but rather serve to create repetitive (but not tedious) vocal arrangements that lay the rhythmic foundation for the songs that are the catalyst that set the rest of the moving parts in motion. My favorite track, “Times like These”, recalls that aforementioned technique similarly employed by Luke Temple remarkably on “Tunnelvision” from Here We Go Magic’s eponymous debut, and I find it stunningly successful when displayed here also. There’s a kinetic synchronicity to James’ synthesized melodies and vocal phrasing and their compliment to Brea’s exploration of the abilities of the voice that’s stunningly organic while not contrasting with their electronic presentation. Imagine collaboration between The Notwist and Angel Deradoorian from the Dirty Projectors wherein she mimics the otherworldly contributions of Johnny Greenwood on Kid A to goose bump-inducing effect. It’s difficult to approximate maybe, but I think that also vouches for its originality. There’s palpable love of arrangement throughout What Frontier that’s the likely result of their interest in opera vocal performance and avant-garde classical composers. That might all sound all together complex but rest assured there are some straight up jams on this record. If you’re a fan of electronic music that’s not only well-written and highly addictive, but also provides some fascinating social commentary, then this is probably going to be your favorite record for some time. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Trust me: It is.