Even if you haven’t yet heard Ford & Lopatin’s debut LP Channel Pressure, you already know exactly what it sounds like. 80s throwback electropop, happy hooks, new-aged tinged video game overworld themes, Rhythm Nation-era industrial R&B, and a liberally applied layer of synthy cheese. All these elements are present here, so in terms of living up to expectations, Ford & Lopatin succeed.
The amount of vocal work on some of these tracks comes as a surprise; the glitchy harmonies on first single “Emergency Room,” the sinister Knife-like digital processing on “Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me),” and the unexpectedly catchy delivery on “Joey Rogers” (“Joey! Joey Rooogers” has been in my head all week) are but a few examples of the voice work here. On last year’s That We Can Play EP, Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin (of Tigercity and Oneohtrix Point Never fame, respectively) got help from fellow Brooklynite Laurel Halo for “Strawberry Skies,” a relatively straightforward pop song that could’ve been a hit back in 1986. On Channel Pressure, vocal duties are divvied up between Ford, the Stepkids’ Jeff Gitelman, and on “Surrender,” another retro-future Brooklyn artist: Autre Ne Veut. The singing helps position this album as a collection of pop songs rather than yet another instrumental so-old-it’s-new electronic album.
This is important, because without the hooks, tracks like “The Voices” would simply be high-fidelity crumbs from James Ferraro’s VHS pastry productions. Indeed, Ford & Lopatin seem content to bask in the glow of He-Man reruns and MS-DOS computer screens. This is fine, of course; not every album has to be revolutionary. But in the wake of releases like last year’s Returnal, on which Lopatin really pushed the conversation forward in terms of abstract electronica, much of Channel Pressure plays disappointingly safe. German artists like Joel Vandroogenbroeck or Software’s Peter Mergener and Michael Weisser were making this music more than twenty years ago. Maybe that’s Ford and Lopatin’s goal, but we’re pretty close to reaching the saturation point for retro electronic fetishism. How many Saturday mornings spent in front of the living room TV are we supposed to relive?
That said, Channel Pressure is an undeniably fun ride through EPCOT-themed dreams and technological mysticism. I think it’s supposed to be a concept album about some kid computer whiz named Joey Rogers, but frankly, that’s not important. This album is like candy; it’s not great for you, but it tastes delicious and goes down easy. Plus, it’s only 37 minutes long, so it’s not like listening to it requires a huge time investment. We should enjoy this album for what it has to offer, while hoping that next time around, Ford and Lopatin offer up something a little more unique.