video age – pop therapy

– featured image courtesy of sarah wagner –

staying on top of every new release is hard.  staying on top of every new release is even harder when your blog uses language that suggests multiple people are cogs in the machine, but really you’re just flailing helplessly by yourself, trying not to drown in a heavily-saturated inbox.  “fashionably late” is a remedy, an intermittent feature designed to showcase particularly special albums or EPs that evaded us (there i go again) during their structured press cycle.  next up is the sophomore full-length from video age.

A song of the summer is among the last bastions of the monoculture, something still largely dictated by radio play and its overall utility.  an album of the summer is a bit more fickle.  the latter isn’t as ubiquitous, in turn exponentially more subjective, and the date of its arrival a bit less indicative of its endurance.  pop therapy, the sophomore full-length from the new orleans duo video age, makes a strong case for contention as this year’s go-to album of the summer, its eleven tracks an instant portal to FM synth-laden, compressed guitar-driven sonic nostalgia.

on their 2016 debut, living alone, bandmates ross farbe and ray micarelli turned in a guitar-pop masterclass coyly disguised as a deep dive into 1980s synthesis.  its successor sheds any semblance of a veneer and puts its synths squarely in the foreground, with lush pads, aqueous bass lines, and brassy squelching leads all converging as an aural thesis for an incredibly timeless new wave exercise.

opening number “lover surreal” is a no-holds-barred take on this approach, a legion of yamahas cresting towards the crystalline cadences of the chorus, but the synth’s reign is often more subtle, machiavellian even: “days to remember” masquerades as the most immediate callback to living alone, only to be disrupted by a buoyant synth motif that instantly shifts the track’s tenor, while the gorgeous, understated fantasy “paris to the moon” is underscored by pulsing chord progressions and the soft detuned wanderings of sustained notes.

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admittedly, it’s rather easy to get lost in the glassy production and utmost care that farbe and micarelli put into the arrangements across pop therapy.  if the first listen is defined by the album’s immediate accessibility and awareness of what constitutes a memorable hook, then subsequent passes through can easily be dedicated to nuance, either by exploring each timbre in isolation or examining how they function in concert, often shifting fluidly from melodic to counter-melodic to rhythmic duties.  pop music is, for better or for worse, often defined by the applicability of its lyrics, however; video age don’t disappoint in this realm, either, turning in a booklet that demonstrates their understanding of a simple refrain’s impact alongside an introspective depth.

dealing in the wistful and the nostalgic is all but expected of a band with such a sonic palette, but farbe drills beneath surface level observations across pop therapy.  “hold on (i was wrong),” a mid-tempo number with the split personality of a dance track and a ballad, hones in on the minutiae of a concession; the fantastically-meta “echo chamber” makes references to its digital namesake while emulating the recording structure, the couplet “in my catacomb / slap-back telling me i’m not alone” solidifying its place as a studio engineer’s anthem; the gait and brassy synth swells of “scenic highway” converge on a portrait of a contemplative scenic drive.

as its title implies, pop therapy finds video age exploring the genre’s propensity for healing.  indeed, its title track contains their most direct and compelling mantra: “pop therapy / it’s easy.”  in an interview with the new orleans advocatefarbe pushes back on the cynicism attached to the concept of pop therapy, saying “it’s actually positive. i’m quoting ray here, but the ’80s music we listen to has a really victorious, heartwarming, enthusiastic feeling to it.  and it’s just these specific chord progressions a lot of times.  so ray said, ‘it’s easy! you can make yourself feel better by playing these chords.'”  with nearly two dozen songs under their belt to back up that proclamation, it appears that video age may be onto something.

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