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Ford & Lopatin
Channel Pressure Rory Gibb , July 7th, 2011 15:33

Considering that Dan Lopatin's music as Oneohtrix Point Never is often so intensely focused on finding beauty in sensory deprivation, it might seem surprising that, when playing alongside Tigercity's Joel Ford, his intention appears to be the exact reverse. The duo's debut as Ford & Lopatin – their first since changing their name from Games – brims with ideas, often packing sound into every available corner of the mix. But in the context of today that approach makes sense. With the current revival in 80s-inspired synth textures and pop structures - though in many cases blurred by the passing of time into abstracted versions of themselves - to make a record so in thrall to the past without a modicum of self-awareness might risk accusations of straightforward retro-copyism. But by incorporating ideas from more or less every region of electronic music, alongside a healthy dose of humour, they largely manage to avoid that potential stigma.

I say largely, because it's inevitable that casual listeners might assume Channel Pressure to be straightforward throwback territory. Many tracks brim with the gaudy textures of early electro-pop, and by shifting vocals to the fore for the majority of the album – one obvious change since their earlier incarnation – the duo's music has become more accessible, at times even pretty. It's certainly possible to hear Ford's other band in there, far more than in the past: Tigercity's fondness for AM radio soft rock is present and correct throughout, though enjoyably offset by Lopatin's evocative way with a synth or two. But while their name might invite it, to boil Ford & Lopatin down to the sum of their parts is to do Channel Pressure a disservice. While it's essentially a pop album, and a good one at that, its most interesting traits are those easiest to miss on first or second listen.

For a start, presumably thanks to Lopatin's involvement in the murky regions surrounding the James Ferraro/Emeralds/LA Vampires end of the spectrum, it's packed with sonic detail. Tiny and seemingly inconsequential flourishes in the background often act as buoys for entire songs, lending them a sense of depth they might otherwise lack. Take opener proper 'Channel Pressure', a lovely slice of breezy electronic funk that wouldn't have sounded out of place on last year's underrated Night & Day album by Oriol. As it progresses its heavily treated vocals gradually begin to stack upon one another, filling out a track that might have ended up a little thin. And occasional interludes and moments of YouTube-sampled chaos (such as the very Ferraro-ish warped radio vortices and screwed voices of opening salvo 'Scumsoft') act like signposts to remind the listener that, yes, they're looking backwards with an awareness of the future.

The second interesting point about Channel Pressure is that, for its audible love of all things 80s, it's unlikely that many songs here could have been written before the turn of the millennium. There are simply too many modern music signifiers tucked away in there, too many cheeky giveaways buried like gems for those listening hard enough. The tongue-in-cheek 'Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me)' gives a clue in its title, aiming a sneakily self-aware barb at anyone simply pinning the duo down simply as past-fetishists. And despite sounding ever-so-slightly like a chart ballad during its middle section, 'Break Inside' is basically a modern R&B slow jam sporting a bad perm and high-waisted trousers.

The third is the latent influence of dance music, a fact made evident in the duo's propulsive live shows (including their recent London gig, which we reviewed here) and something that underpins everything on Channel Pressure. Particularly obvious, especially on the puffed-up strut of 'Joey Rogers' and the hollowed bass of 'Surrender', is first wave Detroit techno and electro. The latter's strung out feel recalls Derrick May's tracks as 'Rhythim is Rhythim', and the entire album is suffused in the crackle of electric blue that defined early tracks by May and Juan Atkins, and later Drexciya and Underground Resistance. Live, the duo are fond of dropping vocals entirely out of the mix, allowing their surprisingly weighty backing tracks to take centre stage in a bristling hail of synthetic snare. Like Laurel Halo's stunning upcoming Hour Logic EP, the best tracks on Channel Pressure allow the pace of dancefloor music to dictate their physical impact.

Channel Pressure isn't a flawless record by any means. As is almost to be expected for an album that toes the line between the experimental and pop worlds, it occasionally veers too far in either direction – which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on any particular listener's perspective. From this angle, 'Break Inside' is almost too saccharine, lacking the muscular edge that makes highlights 'The Voices' and 'New Planet' so compulsively replayable. But it makes sense that Ford & Lopatin have recently become full-time producers as part of the Mexican Summer integrated studio complex. They're self-described as a 'production duo' – a pleasingly old-school idea, given today's obsession with bedroom auteurs – and if that ensures they're able to spend more time honing peculiar blends of old and new pop to enhance their own and others' music, then so much the better for their listeners.

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