I was recently reacquainted with Ray Lynch‘s Deep Breakfast, an infinitely hooky collection of synth pop that, because it’s instrumental, gets filed as new age. Not that the miscategorization hurt the album; Lynch sold over 50,000 copies out of his apartment before getting a distribution deal. Deep Breakfast, released in 1984, went platinum and Lynch never played a single concert. And, in a way that only electronica can, the album has stood the test of time.
I say all this in introduction to the new electronica album by dep — a recent Asheville transplant — because his Start Loving Robots runs the risk of being misfiled. Is it techno? There are those cool, mechanical beats, but this certainly isn’t dance music. Is it classical? Well, from the first notes it’s obviously not, but the composition and structure suggests music intended for an orchestra and then performed on synthesizers and loops. Is it ambient? At times, but don’t expect Robots to turn up at your next shiatsu appointment. No one is likely to classify the album as new age, though it is mostly instrumental and occasionally replicates sounds of nature: The staccato of rain, the burble of water over rocks. But Dep (like Lynch) makes electro-pop and, while Dep does perform live, it’s possible that Robots is best enjoyed alone. In earphones, maybe, or while cooking a meal. On a lazy Sunday, or while dancing in the dark.
“Sweeping, electronic anthems, bending and melting in to one another, as the music swells and subsides — it is music to awaken the mind and stir the soul. If you like unique, lush electronic music, this is for you,” is how the musician describes his work. Also, if you order the album it comes on a “USB robot thumb drive” that he calls a depbot. Cute.
But depbot aside, the album is not cute or gimmicky or even robotic. Which is to say, for all the techy components and the robot reference, Robots is deeply personal and human. The opening track, “Waking Up With You,” evolves through several movements, building in creshendos with layered percussion that begins sweetly enough but threatens to explode at its apex. The song is both heartfelt and huge, sentimental and bold. A slow fade wends through a snare drum track into the pulse of a burbling brook.
“Red, Blue, Green” is more experimental with a wordless voice track whose high pitch comes as close to discordant as possible without offending the ear. “It’s the Fourth of July” is also experimental in that it leads off with the cracks and pop of fireworks. (Could also be pine cones in a camp fire, or JiffyPop and gym whistles, but the name kind of leads us.) At two minutes, the intro verges on long, but then the snap-pop finds a consistent rhythm that serves as the bottom line for a buoyant song. The instrument sounds — an 80s/futuristic keyboard playing bass notes and a high, harpsichord-like melody line — make for a light-hearted retort to the pyrotechnics.
“I Will Not Ever Make A Sound” brings Dep’s vocal back into the mix which, eight songs in, seems unnecessary. The music is rich and interesting enough to stand on its own, without lyrics. But this track also sees the return of the snare drum — a personal favorite, perhaps because the marching band instrument adds an element of animate vulnerability as well as inviting rhythm to the electronic concoction. Also, the voice quickly blends into the soundscape, another layer and texture rather than a focal point.
Final track “Who Knows Where We Go From Here” is a delicate and fluid song set, again, in interconnected movements. Largely ambient, it’s more introspective than it is pretty (and it is) pretty. The song seems to plumb the ethers for answers to eternal questions. Sung in hushed tones, lines and sometimes single words repeat as an underscore to a static-y rhythm track. Beeps and thumps serve as reminders of the title robots, but a fuzzy-soft hum of melody and bird sounds ground the song in the magnanimous warmth that dep reveals again and again. Which, hopefully, will keep Robots relevant for decades to come.
Learn more at justdep.com. Listen to “Who Knows Where We Go From Here” below.