Sean BunnyThere is a growing underground music scene called “synthpop” which is informed by electronica and similar in style to the Pet Shop Boys and the Smiths. Madison's very own Null Device is one of the better bands of that genre, although the numerous influences evident in their music make it difficult to classify them.
Nulldevice has an interesting history. They first gained recognition in the late 90's when an mp3 of their unauthourized electro-cover of Chris Isaak's “Wicked Game” spread across the internet and got played in dance clubs in many parts of the world. They are officially a duo of Erics who met in college, Eric Oehler and Dr. Eric Goedken. Dr. Goedken moved to California years ago and still writes for the band but doesn't play live with them.
Their latest CD, A Million Different Moments, a winner at the Madison Area Music Awards this year for Best Electronic Album (along with the band's win for best electronic artist), continues their tradition of mixing electro, Goth, and 80's-style pop with rather unorthodox elements like tribal beats and a myriad of other instruments that Oehler has taught himself to play or imitated using software on his home computer. One wouldn't easily guess that this was the type of recording that would get played in electro-industrial nightclubs from looking at the minimalist cover art (a picture of the sky with a tree in the corner) unless you happen to be a computer geek and recognize the Unix reference in the band's name.
The CD starts out rather creepily with the haunting cello of “Destinies and Symmetries” but it gets more upbeat as it progresses through the electro-influenced “Easier” and “Electrified.” One song, “Travelogue”, makes two appearances here; first with your typical western drums and orchestral strings, then later on we hear the Turkish version with traditional Middle-Eastern instrumentation.
The complex fusion of modern electronics and ancient sounds continues to be a theme in most of the remaining songs. Rock guitars are prevalent in “Unknowingly” (which has the gothic rock feel of The Cure or New Order) and “Prevailing Winds” (where the guitar screams “in your face!”). The lyrics are generally simple and poppy in nature, and it's easy to see why Oehler was nominated for Best Male Vocalist at this year's MAMAs; his smooth, somewhat high-pitched voice sometimes appraches femininity.
The end result is an impressive opus that is accessible, easy on the ears, and distances itself nicely for other electronic recordings with a large and refreshing amount of non-electronic variety. Their live show, however, is an almost entirely different animal; it features former Rattbelly guitarist Dan Clark, bassist Chuck McKenzie, and an iPod for the percussion and backing tracks, creating a rock-band feel that is worth checking out. Their drummer may not need food, water, or oxygen, but their guitarist makes up for it by showing his punk rock roots as he shreds onstage…well, as much as a Smiths-type band would typically allow.
Production: *** 1/2
Packaging: ** 1/2