Anyone who’s listened to music for the past decade knows that it is common for artists to take the sounds characteristic of tacky eighties electronica and put them in a context in which they can be enjoyed for nostalgic value, which can result in legitimately good music. In this process, it is one thing for a group to craft its identity through the influences of an era. However, it is another thing entirely when a group cuts and pastes all the signifiers of an era and makes music based off of them. The artists who do the latter are not automatically bad as a result of this, but they walk a very fine line. They have to be extremely careful that their imitation comes off as flattery as opposed to… just imitation.
There is a Demetri Martin joke in which he shows the audience a graph. The graph shows a direct positive relationship between the x and y axes but with an abrupt dropoff at the end. “This is the cuteness of a girl versus how interested I am in hearing about how intuitive her cat is,” he says, but then points out, “At a certain point, I don't care how cute you are. I don't wanna hear about your fucking cat anymore.”
A similar situation can be equated to my tolerance of artists that fall in the latter category I mentioned before, and the work on Ford and Lopatin’s debut album, Channel Pressure, would be placed just at the precipice of the point where I just stop giving a fuck. If an artist came along with one more synth or one more Max Headroom impersonator in tow than what Tigercity member Joel Ford and Oneohtrix Point Never leader Daniel Lopatin already bring to the table, then I would probably go ballistic and start doling out F’s.
But, like the Demetri Martin graph shows, Channel Pressures does not reach that point, so I actually enjoy much of Ford and Lopatin’s proper debut. I wasn’t too keen on Lopatin’s most recent Oneohtrix Point Never album, and Channel Pressures is a great improvement, because it has clear activity, and the results of said activity are often quite pleasing. The hooks are saccharine and the vocal performances of Ford and singer Jeff Gitelman are catchy and sanguine. Songs like “World of Regret” and lead single “Emergency Room” are sumptuous synth-pop songs and the rest of the album ranges from the intriguing to the danceable.
But, again, it should be noted that Channel Pressure teeters just over that edge. While I do believe that the album is well-executed homage to a distinctive musical era, Ford and Lopatin are reviving an era that was never particularly good to begin with. So Channel Pressure is most effective when taken within its own context, and enjoyment is incumbent upon listener tolerance and little else. The moment when you stop suspending your disbelief, the album will begin to collapse. For that reason, Channel Pressure is rather hollow, but it still has the potential to be genuinely enjoyable if you’re in just the right mood to listen to it.