by Joel Shanahan July 1, 2010
When listening to Madison electro-poppers Null Device’s latest, Suspending Belief, it’s easy to tell that these were the folks that attended the midnight sales for both Depeche Mode’s Songs Of Faith And Devotion and New Order’s Republic in 1993.
In other words, when synth-pop tumbled out of the modern pop-culture climate in the early ’90s, Null Device hung on for the bumpy ride out of cool. Fast-forward to 2010 and synth-pop has once again kicked a hole through the airwaves. However, many of today’s electro-pop stars only call upon the most novel aspects of classic synth-pop records: The Roland Jupiter-8 and 303, cutesy vocal tics, and decadent fashion. But when Null Device draws from Depeche Mode on Suspending Belief—particularly on album highlight “Notes From The Fallen”—it sounds like a B-side that never was from Mode’s 2005 effort Playing The Angel. The tastefully reverberated vocal melodies of multi-instrumentalist Eric Oehler rise and fall over a pulse of word-tinged rhythms and synths that soar and bounce behind a thin layer of what sounds like sitar.
The group’s earnest approach to synth-pop is at its best when Oehler and Co. aren’t overindulging, which is unfortunately the case with “Blades Of Grass” and “Many Forms.” The way vocalist Raya Wolfsun’s ethereal vocals collide with the clinical sonics of “Many Forms” pulls the tune dangerously close to new-age bookstore territory. Thankfully, the warped, shuffling synth hooks of “Blow My Mind,” the punchy, string-laden “Inkblots,” and the entrancing sequencing and Bertrand Russell-alluding lyrics of “Teapots Orbiting” round out Suspending Belief quite nicely, offering a refreshing perspective on a genre that’s overshadowed by dance-party kitsch.
(Eric’s note: Both Eric G and I were, in fact, at the midnight release parties for SOFAD and Republic. Spooky.)