The woman on the cover is gazing up at the Hexahedron cities, the ultimate brainchild among Paolo Soleri’s fusions of architecture and ecology. Each behemoth of a building would have been 2,101 metres tall if constructed within the real world. To this day, it remains a miracle how they found a tall enough person for the shoot.
What do these cities bear? Children? Ideas? Maybe just regular folks? Well, I’m afraid I must disclose that they instead are bearing the fruit of new wave product. We’re doing one of these writings again, one of the blathering-’bout-music sort. This architecture is a synth-centric utopian vision of a few people’s musical musings in the form of Worlds Away (1982). I’ll assign what kind of resident each piece would be just to be interesting.
All of these residential spaces and shops that occupy a lion’s share is where all the unremarkable pieces find a home. The air is just vocals, it may very well be primarily air given how weightless it is and how empty it feels the more you try thinking about it. You’ll find She Controls Me building a small city in its park, one of jigsaw puzzles and cliches, inevitably to go as unfinished as its own creation. For having the duration of three minutes, it’s got around thirty seconds worth of stuff to say. Perhaps we shall assign Love Games as its neighbour, which seems to be utterly obsessed with its treadmill to the point of a hopeless romancing between looping pathways and overly worked legs. It never explores too much outside its own little space, but when it does, that ability to boot it can really present itself as a formidable ability. Of course, it’s not too long before it just wants to waddle back to its favourite and most familiar instrument: that of careless cardio. It speaks of the similar blathers as its neighbour, melodic lines no more entertaining than the white lines of an empty tennis field.
One Chance in a Million, this one strikes me as a daydreamer. Its head is impossibly more in the clouds than it already is given the height of this damned structure. If we clutch this fictional abstract character just a tad more in our conscience, we can see its dreams contain those of fluttering, communicated in the piece’s occasional ephemeral synth flights. Most of the instruments love partaking in this sport to the point that, impossibly, they give this song the ability to fly outside of the realms of dreaming. Though just a hover an inch above a concrete soil perched kilometres high, it’s really getting there. The lead guitar has much more to offer than any other instrument provided in these first three songs.
If you wanna meet the one with the best chance of being productive and getting things done rather than adhering to repetitive exercise or endless fantasy, Sister Radio sounds like the one for the job. You can envision this piece on one of the final floors of this monument, where the vocals have even more to provide in terms of a decent emotional reaction, and the simplest acoustic timbre provides a significant boost when it comes to buckling down on a textural level. Wayne Lytle would have loved this thing, I betcha. All the legitimately sufficient keyboard performances, the strums, the blooms, the relentlessly timely percussion which engages in the drug of reverberation without succumbing to addiction, and without question, its ability to achieve a flight greater than these previously mentioned strangers. Goodness me, even the dynamics are better, the latter stretch of the song providing exactly the kind of passage that most synthpop outfits of the 1980s think about in order to feel alive again. Of course, like most good songs from this era, it prevents itself from being great because of having a particularly lame fade-out. It makes you daydream enough to forget about this whole concept of assigning characters, that’s how you know it got something done.
Automatic Sighs, what about that one? Well, it’s got the same energy of a part-time essayist who’s got a repertoire of energy drinks and angel dust taped ‘neath its bed frame. The specificity raises the question on if this character is halfway to a basket case. The vocals have a little more empty ventilation once more, as if a return to unideal form, and the electronics sure love to rev like souped-up Fiats all lined up in one big drag event. The adlibs of the automatic sighs happen to be a cute detail, but doesn’t really make up for the lack of flesh the chorus has got. On the plus side, the guitar sure knows how to reinvigorate the piece in spite of yet another snooze-worthy fade out of consciousness. I think the fella’s passed out or something. If we enter its unprepared fever dreams, we will find ourselves at a precipice between the state of dreams and the state of reality that the title track occupies. Worlds Away’s intro is already a more abundant and legitimately ethereal section than anything else on the album.
Of course, given how dreams tend to work, some things feel a bit off or obscured, like the particularly concave (and more bluntly, awful) snare sound. The vocalist here is like Mr. Sigh’s guardian angel, overseeing the whole conquest courtesy of imagination like a separate governing body, though with no more presence or impact than a backing figment of the dream. There’s a lot of black void in the environment, more neon than flesh, flower, or manmade structure. The song’s got the mood of a piece that begs to flourish into its own state of mind, but the general breathy malaise contracts those ambitions into just becoming another victim of dream logic. It all comes together especially more potently in the last two minutes, where a whole wall of clarity and eudaimonia washes over the piece. We’re back awake.
Kiss in the Dark doesn’t like soft awakenings, so instead it’s more of the type to run around looking for love, with the added affinity of unleashing a torrent of cold water from a bucket unto the heads of those caught up in sleeping, for they must pursue love as well for their life to feel complete! It’s got a spring in its step like a zealot for romance. Maybe it’s been having a dance class up on the 326th floor. It jogs better than Love Games, it’s got the better chorus though not by much, and it’s infinitely more orbital in the face of rhythm. It’ll blow kisses at any eyes that dart toward it, any light that flashes up its face. “It’s the new wave,” it would proclaim. “Liven up, asshole!”
Speaking of which, Hold On to the Nite has got the fourth-best Bowie impressionist in the arcology behind the wheel of the vocalist responsibility. It wants to be very upfront, and it wants to narrate about its subject with a real interrogative yet ditzy vigour. Of course, they don’t call it an impressionist for nothing, it’s simply zilch in the face of the real thing. A good benefit is that it begins unveiling its actual voice in the chorus, with the detriment of a seemingly obligatory non-English speaking passage as a bridge. As to why it’s there, I’ll attribute it to being a trend. The synths have been doing their job quite decently through most of the songs here, so there’s little to say other than: good job, fellas. A fine footprint in the Canadian new wave. Quick, here’s Watermusic to give you a slightly bold glimpse into all the squeaky foundations that most residents don’t talk about. Right, back to these cutouts.
Prisoners likes its timpani in well spared placements, and it especially likes having perhaps the most conventional chorus in the album. We’ve got the song name-dropped twice, with even a “lovin’ you” in the mix, and a profound bonus of big-time backing vocals, and twinkly little keyboards far back in the mix. Hell, the electric guitar takes center stage besides the sparingly pounding drums. Want even more convention? Well, how about a bridge where a synth just sweeps on downward like a kid’s impression of some fancy-schmancy space elevator art? EEEEEEOOOoooooohp. I tell you, that’s an epoch’s worth of magic. Oh, and what about a generally forgettable guitar solo in the final section? We’ve got those too, in droves. Now, what kind of character does this song convey? My guess is conformist.
Hey, we know that’s not a good way to end the album. Imagine ending a half-decent wine tasting with a cola. Instead, we get a reprise of the title track. This I especially love, given the added magic that such an intro is the single best part of the album. The members know what’s the best stuff they’ve done and they know it well, that’s a good reason as to why it’s here once more on top of being a decent way to end this whole product from a conceptual standpoint.
Despite the heavy amounts of desire for immersion, the knowledge of being a product is something that’s just generally nearly impossible to avoid when you’re doing new wave hootenannies. eIt isn’t looking to make roofs fly off, it’s more or less using the mainstream to conduct its own sci-fi fiction. It don’t polycotton to coping tropes, not even its own. The instrumental line-up is generally limited to such tropes, without much branching out into even bolder terrain than most science-fiction concepts beg for, but most of those instruments have done quite okay in communicating half the vision. The best news is that there’s somebody in the world that knows how cool the Hexahedron City is. It’s like the Fallingwater of buildings that don’t exist. The fantasies of 1969 happen to be just as fresh architecturally as the elucidations of the early 80s futuristic have-at-thees, and the best sonic backdrop for this revelation is through obscure synthpop that could have done at least a few weeks on the big charts.
Trajectory of listens past the first: Not up to Soleri standards.
Written 1:30 - 2:35 PM, 10/10/2023.