It's time for a review of something that you can't find on Wal-Mart shelves. Departures is a brand new album that is now available from iTunes, Amazon, and Argyle Street's Myspace page. If you have any interest in what some people might call "synthpop," I would recommend giving this one a listen.
Argyle Street is the one-man effort of someone known only as Shawn Z. He did all the songwriting and singing, but he also had some help from a few female vocalists and everyone's favorite producer, Joey Belville.
In terms of style, I would describe Departures as mellow synthpop. For those who don't follow electronic music as closely as I do, synthpop is a loose subgenre of electronic music characterized by a focus on vocals and a structure similar to typical rock music. Now, back to Argyle Street, I use the word mellow loosely. Only a few of the songs are slow and gentle, but just about all of them have a light and airy feel to them. There is also less of a focus on sonic complexity than in a lot of electronic music and more of a focus on mood. I suppose it's one of those albums that you will either love or hate, but I commend it for its originality.
The album opens with its title song, which is by no means the strongest song on the album, but it serves as a good introduction to the album as well as the band's style. It is a great showcase for Shawn's smooth vocals and simple, yet strangely captivating, melodies.
Then comes "ABC," which is one of the faster, brighter songs. It's a bit more on the "normal" side than a lot of the rest of the album, but that's not a bad thing. It's incredibly catchy and it really showcases what this indie band can do.
My personal favorite, and probably the most elaborately produced, is "One." In contrast to "ABC," it's much slower and gentler, but the melody can stand up to anything mainstream and the production is just brilliant. Layered strings underscore the soaring vocals, while a smooth square lead textures the background. Unless you listen to it on headphones, you might not even notice it, but regardless, it works very well and easily creates the best mood on the album.
"I Saw You First" is another standout. It's more mellow than most of the others, but there is a nearly constant harmony with female vocals that can just about put me to sleep.
A number of the other songs, even those that don't stand out as much as the ones I've already discussed, have a remarkable way of keeping you hooked. I can't really explain it, but something about them makes this one of those albums that I can just leave in my car and forget it's there.
As far as the lyrics go, you'll get everything from the relatively deep commentary of "Departures" to the intentionally silly "Antiperspirant." I always care more about the music than the lyrics, but they seem to serve their purpose well.
I feel like I've been praising this album too much. Like all albums, it's not perfect. I understand that complexity was often sacrificed for the sake of mood, but not all of the songs are as moving as "One." Some, like "Cold Cereal" and "ABC," could have benefited from some extra synth work, or at least some more varied effects. To be honest, though, I doubt that most people will even see that as a problem. It is, after all, a stylistic choice. The only other significant issue that comes to mind is the flow. I think it's great that the album never strays too far from its overall style, but sometimes, the song-to-song flow isn't as smooth as it could be and it can be a bit distracting.
Overall, I have to say that this is a very strong start for Argyle Street. If you have yet to hear him, at least look him up on Myspace. If you like what you hear, buy the album. If you like the style at all, you won't be disappointed. Hopefully, we can look forward to more strong work and a constantly maturing sound from Argyle Street.
Caius's Rating: 4 stars