splendid > reviews > 10/12/2004
Couture, Couture, Couture
Sub Pop

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Dead Wrong"

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Fashion is fickle. One day it's safe to forget about 1980s icons like the Cure, New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen; the next, you find that hot young bands are pulling their records out of the bins, slapping them on the stereo and going from there. Now Brent Rademaker, once of The Tyde and The Beachwood Sparks, brings on Frausdots, who join the Rapture, Radio Berlin, Interpol and maybe 50 other bands in mining that dark, echoey Reagan-era vibe.

Frausdots was born, apparently, when Rademaker and Michelle Loiselle (the bass player and Rademaker's girlfriend) travelled to Spain together and saw the Cure at a festival. They recruited The Cure's keyboardist Roger O'Donnel (he of the brooding synthesizers on "Closedown", among other things) to guest on the album, as well as members of The Tyde, Rooney, Warlocks, Velvet Crush and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Couture, Couture, Couture itself draws heavily from Disintegration-era Cure music, dramatic synthy gestures joined to affecting love songs. There's also a fair bit of similarity in the drumming, thundering tribally under the superclean vocals (try A-Bing "Fashion Death Trends" with "Pictures of You" and tell me what you think). So, obviously, the main reference is The Cure, though you can hear nods to other late-1980s bands -- the swirling euphoria of Echo and the Bunnymen, the reverbed romanticism of the Psychedelic Furs, and even the epic emptiness of Simple Minds.

Personally, I'm lukewarm on the whole post-Joy Division-synth-dance-romantic era. It's a little chilly, a little posed, a little self-absorbed for my taste. Yet even if you agree, and many people don't, there's a lot to like about Couture. There's an intermittent psychedelia here that lifts even the most deadpan tracks into sunny pop territory, as sweeping, swooning So-Cal melodies erupt from its cavernous grooves.

"Dead Wrong", for instance, opens with a New Order-ish sheen, all thudding 4/4 bass drum and expressionless vocals. But just when you've got a handle on it -- oh, it's that kind of song -- it's not. It goes from hollow-cheeked black to Pucci rainbows, all in a measure or two, with a vaulting, giddy chorus. That's just a foretaste of what Frausdots will do in the album's best song -- actually the best single song I've heard in a long time -- "Soft Lights". It begins with a strong whiff of Interpol's "Untitled", with its blurred, eighth-note guitars and deep, cool male vocals. One minute in, however, the "I don't want to live forever" chorus kicks in, lifting off into pure Pet Sounds perfection. Amazingly, the two pieces join and even reinforce each other. Think of a latticework shadow: part light, part darkness, but recognizably one thing. That's what "Soft Lights" resembles.

"Broken Arrows" tries this trick again, but it's less successful in joining the two halves. The dark side is strong, as Yoda would say, and overwhelms the sweep and uplift of the chorus. The reverse happens on closer "Tomorrow's Sky", which, despite its lyrics about broken mirrors and the future being nothing new, is a fluffy pastiche of synths and ringing guitars. The "Lovecats" yelp near the end is just a gesture; Frausdots nailed the Cure's danceable darkness many tracks ago.



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