Fans of synthesizer-based pop music haven't had much to be excited about in the '90s. With the sole exception of Depeche Mode, all of the '80s synthpop bands that helped define the sound of that decade have either broken up or been driven back underground. Many members of the old analog guard have been releasing new records in overseas markets only, which leaves American fans with no choice but to cough up $30 or more to own these works as imports.
With this once-dominant format long since swept under the cultural carpet and now only viable as the basis for an occasional reunion tour or a lunch-break flashback show, the emergence of Lakewood duo Furnace St. is all the more cause for celebration.
Made up of composer/programmer/guitarist/vocalist Adam Boose and keyboardist/bassist/vocalist Lisa Jorgensen, Furnace St.'s music is the sound of an alternate world where the exotic blend of synthesizers and hummable, stick-in-your-brain melodies never went out of style. On their aptly titled CD Neuromantic, Boose and Jorgensen treat listeners to an addicting sonic tapestry woven out of elegiac minor chords, whispered vocals, celestial theremin-like effects, and crisp, angular electronic percussion.
"I think we're the next logical progression, falling somewhere between Joy Division and New Order," says Boose. "There's the darkness [of the former], but there's also the dancier, sort of modern feel [of the latter]." Asked to name other musical influences, he says, "The Cure, of course. Meat Beat Manifesto gives us the break beat influence and the laid-back kind of mellow sound." He laughs and adds, "When you mix '80s dance music, booty call music, and indie rock, I guess that's what we are.
"Not too many people are really doing [synthpop] anymore," Boose continues. "I'm not trying to toot our own horn or anything, but ... this is just the kind of stuff I grew up listening to--electronic music with a human kind of feel to it. Our whole deal is getting really old and cheap analog and digital synths from the early '80s, because they're cheap and they sound really cool."
Cool is definitely the word that comes to mind for any synthpop fan listening to Neuromantic for the first time. While Boose's music is indeed homage to the groundbreaking dance-rock fusion of New Order ("Strength," "Trancer," and "Pathos" in particular could pass for outtakes from Power, Corruption, and Lies), any devoted fan of earlier Eurosynth acts like Visage, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Kissing the Pink, or the Human League will immediately feel a kinship with the instrumental "Synthfag" and the strongly melodic highlights "Friends," "Last Night," and the gorgeous closer, "Xangel."
While there are many instances on Neuromantic in which it sounds like the last nine years of music never happened, that's not to say the album's an instant artifact. Many Furnace St. songs (especially "Think of Me," "Cats and Dogs," "Lost Chalice," and "Bittersweet") feature techno-friendly beats and bleak, industrial textures that could only have come from the aggro-friendly '90s.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boose eschews modern electronic music as an influence or even an interest. "It seems like electronic music today is more about technique and intelligence, and there's not too much heart in it. Heartbreak is the best influence to write about ... the whole love thing. You don't hear too much techno music about that sort of thing."
Having spent years creating their detailed sound, Boose and Jorgensen are only now starting to take earnest steps in getting the word out to anyone who is interested. "We've been doing this for like four years but not really taking it seriously, as in trying to promote it or put it out," Boose admits. "We started doing that maybe five months ago. We've played a handful of shows around here and we're trying to spread out a bit ... We're trying to take it as slow as we can, hoping to pick up airplay. So far, we have had nothing but good reviews. The only problem that we have is trying to find people to play with, because we really don't fit in well with the trance/DJ scene. We probably have a better reaction playing with indie-rock kind of song bands."
Neuromantic is only available at Furnace St.'s shows for the time being. Boose modestly explains: "It's a limited run. We consider [the CDs] demos."
As for the reaction Furnace St. has garnered thus far, Boose pronounces it "so far, so good ... We're just trying to play out as much as we can and get the word out. I hope people like it. My reason for living is to make music, and when somebody enjoys something I do, it means a hell of a lot to me."
Furnace St. Friday, December 11, the Symposium, 11794 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-9696.