Since their debut album in 2009, the duo of Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner has been releasing music out of New Orleans under the alias Generationals. Their sound is defined by a reverence for the peak of new wave and synthpop without diving too neck deep in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. Their smart, jaunty approach to indie pop draws justified comparison to their contemporaries such as Phoenix, MGMT, and Of Montreal. Since moving to Polyvinyl Records earlier this decade, a roster which includes some of the most forward thinking artists in rock today including American Football, Xiu Xiu, Alvvays, Kero Kero Bonito, Jeff Rosenstock, the band have found a creative boost and it’s little wonder why.
Opener “I’ve Been Wrong Before” is a perfectly pleasant, albeit relatively tame and inoffensive piece of synthpop. Taking cues from Foxygen, soft-spoken, reverb-rich vocals are companied by a jangly guitar shuffle. A common technique for Generationals is to mask bitterness underneath their sweet and approachable melodies. Here a friend is chided for their absence during the singer’s time of need.
“I Turned My Back on the Written Word” introduces itself with a sweet, infectious mix of keys, cycling guitar, and sticky synths. Generationals find ways to be hopeful while still holding a cynic’s point of view; “I’ll be your guide when the darkness falls on the jaded weary eye.” Single “Breaking Your Silence” is attached to an optimistic melancholy. Riding a bass driven groove, this heartland inspired pop rock boasts a rousing chorus.
A political jadedness plays a key role on the charged, dystopian “A List of the Virtues”. This State Of The Union-esque ballad starts off strong with a fragmented, oblique synth groove. Unfortunately, after the intro runs dry, the track instrumentally loses momentum, resulting in a relatively bland song.
“Gatekeeper” is Cut Copy-inspired dance-pop, complete with falsetto-led verses, disco-lite guitars, and droning synths. Lyrically, this tune is not a grin inducer. This bittersweet heartbreak pop holds devastating lines such as “holding back tears was all that you could do to survive. “Xeno Bobby” showcases Generationals at their haziest. The fuzzy production is heavily laced with chopped and screwed vocal samples that are heavily pitch-shifted. Gentle, yearning verses, with prominently featured processional keys, are given a distinctly chamber pop feel.
Not every track is a winner. “Society of Winners” underperforms with its monotonous, standard rock beat. Most of the track functions with a simple bass line and a single slashing guitar chord riff. Complete with an unremarkable chorus, this is, to say it simply, the biggest dud on the album.
“Deadbeat Shiver” is pure driving electro pop. The hushed vocals are pushed back in the mix, making the fluttering synth the most pronounced aspect. It’s a welcome production decision to give the infectious instrumental showmanship the life it deserves. The intro to “Save This For Never” is a clear nod to LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great”, whether the similarity was intentional or not. It’s a true fist-pumper due to the climactic knob twisting. On top of the impressive electronic elements, the bright guitar melody is a surefire festival pleaser.
With its choppy vocal swoon, percussive closer “Dream Box” returns to the themes of isolation and broken relationships. As previously executed, Generationals hide heartbreak and angst under the guise of sunshine and sepia filters, injecting madness into the veins of sugary melodies and summer dance grooves.
Reader As Detective, Generationals’ fourth studio album, offers some solid tunes, though it is far from a perfect record. It is considerably front-loaded, with momentum being lost towards the middle of its runtime. The band seems content to write fun, easy-to-like dance-pop, not really extending their ambitions to create something truly exceptional or groundbreaking. Regardless, even when ideas are being rehashed, the execution here cannot be knocked. During its best moments, this album is perfectly serviceable, retro-fused pop. Sticky melodies, bouncy synth grooves, and lyrics worth dissecting form the ingredients for a fun, worthwhile summer soundtrack.