To get my attention, there are far worse things one could do than to start with a Monty Python reference. Such a reference indicates an intelligence, sophistication, and silliness that simply demands a closer look. This was what brought Pining for the Chords, the new album by London’s Depthbuffer to my attention. Was not in any way disappointed.
Pining for the Chords is not an easy album to describe. Depthbuffer isn’t an artist with any strict loyalty to any single sound or style. Literally anything is on the table, but the album is surprisingly cohesive for this.
It starts with the Scritti Politti-esque Look My Way. Whispery vocals, late-80’s/early-90’s influenced rhythms, and crystalline pop synths call back to an era of pure pop magic. An artist wanting to play it safe could have made an entire album of this sort of thing and coasted on nostalgia. Not Depthbuffer, though.
Instead, next, we get Lights in the Sky, a spooky, atmospheric sci-fi outrunner with yummy tension and a driving beat. Again, a whole album of this sort of thing would be fine, but Depthbuffer had other plans.
Those plans include a sparse organ and lo-fi-radio vocals on the track Counting Magpies. This charming little tune with its tiny-radio-speaker vocals and Andy Partridge-esque lyrics about the complexities of life and how we’d be better off without some of them would be a great way to spend an album. But nope, because that’s not how Depthbuffer does things.
What he does is Quivering Torso, a hopping electroswing jam with fun samples, loopy melodies, hip-hop scratches, and rhythms that your great grandma would have shaken her butt to. You could dance all night to this sort of thing if you just wanted to do this for a whole album. But, then, you wouldn’t be Depthbuffer.
What you would do, if you were, in fact, Depthbuffer, is follow that with a chiptune lullaby of longing and love. Manchild, a cover of a song by Eels contains clever lyrics sung with understated longing. Another artist would probably lean on that sort of vocal performance for a whole album, instead of messing around with instrumentals.
So, The Bughouse is an instrumental, with spooky funhouse instrumentation and madhouse melodies interspersed with public domain samples into a waltz of insanity that would be welcome in any haunted house or spooky playlist. But at this point, it’s been such a wuzzle, the last thing you would expect is for Depthbuffer to follow it up with anything even remotely close to this track.
So he does, transitioning into Experiment 101. They say insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, so Depthbuffer cranks up the insanity, taking the twisted melodies and haunting samples builds the ideas presented in the previous track into a frenetic trance of madness.
Then, if you’ve hung on this long, despite this being in no way the cookie cutter palm trees and flamingos synthwave album you might have been expecting, your reward is Miami Skies, a brilliant twist on the classic synthwave sound. Built on some of the staples of retrowave, you got your treated saw wave synths, electronic tom toms, and synthesized drum fills that would make Phil Collins himself proud, and vocals reminiscent of a Trevor Something vocal performance with less smoke and more vapor.
Those with tastes sophisticated and complex enough to be on board with the sound of this beautiful madness so far are encouraged to get the Bandcamp version, where you’re treated to bonus tracks, an instrumental version of Experiment 101 and an original track with a name and a theme weird enough that I’ll leave it as a surprise for the brave.
Pining for the Chords may sound like an album that isn’t for everyone, and, honestly it isn’t. But one doesn’t have to look too deeply into the synthwave scene to see people complaining that many artists are doing the same thing over and over and that there needs to be more risk-taking and diversity of sound. If you’re this sort, or if you just like synth music that goes outside the box, this is definitely one of the most creative, diverse, and, when it comes down to it, fun collections of tracks I’ve heard all year.