There’s a false sense of familiarity to start Hey Genius. Cruel Intention’s electronic beat is a dead ringer for Lipps Inc anthem Funkytown. But that disco classic’s carefree pulse turns to something more insular and grounded, like a cross between synthpop’s origins and the Italians Do It Better roster. It’s cooler too, Jen Devereux’s voice restrained and in control of each earworm melody.
She and Oh Baby bandmate Rick Hornby are distant cousins who met at a relative’s funeral. They share an interest in electricity, an aesthetic that links Hey Genius’s five tracks, powering its neon vibe and illuminating its dancefloors. It’s on those dancefloors where the album’s digital sound gives way to its more human impulses. Devereux sings ‘love is a rumour…I believe the rumour, do you?’ on L.I.A.R., looking for the real among the artificial. The song is a slow dance, romantic in pace but conflicted in its heart. Its lyrics are optimistic yet uncertain, and the title L.I.A.R. adds another layer to its questioning. The band claim to enjoy the emotions and drama of a dancefloor, and convey all of those complexities with a lone chorus.
In Her Car would sound at home on the now iconic Drive soundtrack, comfortably bridging the gap between contemporary appreciation for the 80s while drawing influence from Vangelis’s Blade Runner score. It’s a cinematic record in that sense, evoking visuals – dim clubs, dark cities – that listeners ascribe feelings to. Sometimes it’s a drive through empty lamplit streets, sometimes it’s hopeful eye contact across a smoky room. ‘I don’t want a sweetheart, I want a machine’ goes High-Teens, a foot firmly in the sci-fi world of AI and replicants.
In that respect, it’s the music of right now. Love has played out on screens over the last 18 months while everyone has kept their distance, introducing technology to something at the heart of what it is to be human. But none of Hey Genius’s grand aims get in the way of these five tracks being anything other than stellar synthpop. Big ideas and big tunes in a little gem of a record.
Photo courtesy of Karen Hornby
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