CD title: Rockets and Swords
Label: Metropolis /
Reviewer: DJ Kantrip
One of the reasons I love Synthpop (especially the bands that get adopted by the gothy/stompy crowd), is that many of the bands have a clear emotional evolution that can be seen across their discographies. Of all the bands that I've witnessed this growth with, De/Vision is the one that astounds me the most. Their 2007 album, N00B is one of my favorite albums of all time, and is a testament of just how drastic a musical project can change perspectives without losing its core essence in the process.
Rockets and Swords is the 12th full-length release from the German-based Synthpop act, and if you enjoyed their last 2 releases, you will definitely enjoy this album. De/Vision has found a nice little niche' with their relaxed and hopeful style of synthpop. On the 2007 release, N00B, Steffen Keth and Thomas Adam quit being upset over their break-ups, ditched their cynical view of the world, and took on a more light-hearted and inspirational tone. Its hard to believe that the same band that had a hit with "Heart-Shaped Tumor", now wonders how far they have to go to "reignite the flame that brightened my insights".
Sadly for DJs there are no strong club tracks on this CD. While this hasn't been the case for the past 5 albums, it is still slightly disappointing to have a De/Vision album without a four-to-the-floor track. That's not to say that the album is a complete low-tempo chill-fest. Songs like “Binary Soldier”, “Boy Toy”, and “Superhuman” are upbeat and with a bit of EQ adjusting completely fun for the dancefloor. Are they the new “Drifting Sideways” or “I, Regret”? No. But if you like dancing to or spinning stuff like Beborn Beton, Melotron, or later Wolfshiem, these songs will find a happy home in your clubs.
I do love how emotionally balanced the album is. All of the songs are optimistic and hopeful, while maintaining realistic expectations. Tracks like “Bipolar” and “Beauty of Decay” empathize with the listener and encourage them to work through their hardships. If there was a dark song on Rockets and Swords it would be the first single, “Brotherhood of Man”. A blunt recounting of the pain and suffering that we may see around us everyday but often ignore. The track can be a bit jarring to listen to when you're just bopping your head along to the beat and then hear the line "14 year old gorgeous teen lives to be the new porn queen”.
Musically the album has a futuristic but grounded sound. Emphasis on grounded. None of the songs go too manic or too depressive. There is just the right amount of both moods balanced through the entire album. Even on the track “Bipolar”. There are sharp-sounding synths, gentle beats, and clear vocals. One way of looking at this album is that it is a guided tour through a futuristic city, and less of a blast off into the void of space. Songs like “Stargazer”, “Want to Believe”, and “Brotherhood of Man” harken back to the softer more introspective sounds found on “Subkutan” or “6 Feet Underground”, but add a beat and energy which those albums lacked. On the other side of it, “Superhuman”, “Boy Toy”, and “Binary Soldier”, bring back the manic energy of “Dinner Without Grace” or “Try to Forget”, but again maintain their tempo and mood, keeping the excitement of these songs from spilling over.
Unfortunately, the graceful balance that gives Rockets and Swords its strength, is also the album's biggest weakness. As mentioned previously I enjoy it when a band evolves their sound and breaks through to new territory both emotionally and musically. It becomes a fun journey for the artist and listener to see where the next album will take them. For De/Vision the journey is through the same tranquil musical landscape that they have been exploring since N00B. I'm not asking for a return to previous releases or for some grand new evolution, but it did bother me that there was very little on Rockets and Swords that took me by surprise. Much of what makes this album great was previously heard on Popgefahr, and N00B. This CD comes off as formulaic in many places.
“Binary Soldiers”, is almost the new “Mandroids” from Popgefahr. Fast paced with a Sci-Fi focus on the subject matter. “Boy Toy” is nigh indistinguishable from “Flavour of the Week”, or “Plastik Heart”. All three deal with the ups and downs of being in love and trusting someone. I could go on, but my point is that with the exception of “Brotherhood of Man”, every song seems to fall into a template that was found on the prior two releases. There is the part of Synthpop that is Pop Music, so yes it is not unheard of to have some clone songs once in awhile but this album really does feel like Popgefahr Pt 2, and less like its own creature.
At the end of it all, I'm happy with this new De/Vision album. Is it anything new or off the wall? No, but De/Vision continues to create really good synthpop that leaves an impression on its listener. And speaking as someone who is angsted-out, having Rockets and Swords inject a bit of positivity into my playlists isn't a bad thing.
3 out of 5 Stars.
Take a listen to: Superhuman
Buy the album here: http://www.metropolis-mailorder.com/product.php?prodnum=MET+821
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