Styrofoam
Nothing’s Lost
2004
B+



consider yourself fairly warned. I’m bound to talk about electro pop. I can’t get around it. That’s the over-taxed genre that draws us here today. Stiffening against the passing of all of indie’s more drooled-over genres, electro pop is beginning to seem more mainstay than fad. But, Jesus, I’ve been splitting that hair for almost a year now. Maybe I’m still wrong. Maybe it’ll fade and this review will blanch with it.

In either case, Morr Music is one of the genre’s most prolific labels, and continues to provide a home for its more interesting talents like Lali Puna and Ms. John Soda. Arne van Petegum, aka Styrofoam, should now be considered amongst that group. While 2003’s I’m What’s There to Show That Something’s Missing was a formless toeing-of-the-line, content to paint just barely within the lines of the form but showing plenty of unseemly smudges beyond, Nothing’s Lost is a more stately affair, flaunting van Petegum’s growth as a producer without losing his child-like talent for awkward emulation.

And, really, the first thing that stands out from its predecessor is Styrofoam’s production work. The tracks sift together like layered earth, and yet there’s enough rusty scraping underneath to avoid the monotonous pacing of most ‘chilly’ electronic music. Fully versed in the work of Fennesz especially, van Petegum encases his beats in dense shrouds of reverb and static, introducing Fennesz’s weathered sense of atmosphere to his soundscapes. “Beequeen” begins with the sounds of a natural world dizzy with the madness of technology, spinning around a crispy dance-beat and ice-chipped synth lines. Van Petegum’s voice whispers from the middle of the mix, the concerted effort to blend song with spastic tech-pulse managing the push-and-pull with harmony.

“Your Eyes Only” crinkles with salty edges and post-heroin fatigue. Electro-pop for the post-midnight set, cold coffee and half-empty leftovers, it warms the room with its soft red-lantern light. And yet, in its more common voicing, it shows van Petegum’s lyrical maturity. Whereas on I’m What’s There, he depended upon the stale noir of repeated phrase, here Petegum has engulfed himself in story. His movement towards more pop-oriented song-writing complicates his more straight-ahead moments without restraining his abstract stretches.

Of course, perhaps van Petegum’s leaps as a producer don’t interest you. You’re here to read about the guests, and there are plenty of them. Markus Acher of The Notwist; Alias; Valerie Trebeljahr of Lali Puna; Andrew Kenny of American Analog Set. Perhaps more importantly, given the romantic post-aught gleam of the genre, you’ve acknowledged the Postal Service references from your Gibbard Google Quests and you’ve arrived. Glad to have you. Unfortunately, I have to warn you that besides Gibbard’s Dntel-spot on “Couches in Alleys,” the guests are of secondary importance.

Anticon rep Alias’ turn on opener “Misguided” sounds like a Hood remix force-fed to studio guests. There’s little sense of the cohesive form-mixing that band mastered with Dose One and Why? on Cold House. Instead, the mis-matched hip-hop break sounds confused against Trebeljarh’s freezer-burned harmonies and van Petegum’s deadpan voicing, especially given it’s the last time the album ever approaches the same blend.

Trebeljahr’s use is especially disappointing. Despite the wider emotional tenor she showed on last year’s Faking the Books, her talents seem spoiled here, adding little more than vocal reverb on “Misguided” for example. Her voice is often pushed down in the mix, at times virtually inaudible. Compared to the engulfing swoon of Emmylou Harris on much of the new Bright Eyes record, one can’t help but decry the wasted friendships here.

And, yet, despite the album’s cohesive flow, Nothing’s Lost’s greatest coup lies in its standouts. “Ticket Out of Town,” one of van Petegum’s few solo-credits, squiggles and squelches for its life. Beneath thorny static vines and a microwave beat, he layers his voice in the middle again, just audible enough for the discerning but never overpowering. The song’s forlorn harmonies meld into aura over song. “Anything” thaws its frostbite in rocky steam-baths, guided by the stoic flirtation of Bent Van Looy (of Das Pop) and the sweaty diva strut of Miki (Pitchtuner).

Should you feel like updating your digi-collection, Nothing’s Lost will provide the electro-sedation you crave. Your breathing will relax to its vague hints of white-eyed nymphs in stalactite crowns, dancing in the birth of spring. Another winter softens, and the night is short. Yes, electro pop is here to stay. Choose its best representation, and its shuddered frost won’t harm you.



Reviewed by: Derek Miller
Reviewed on: 2005-02-04
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