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Unless you've recently beamed in from another dimension, you'll have noticed the marked increase in electro-pop of just about every variety that's defined the last few years in popular music, particularly the charts, where vile, disfigured forms exist, blocking the good stuff from gaining entry like some sonic forcefield. It kicked-off (in the UK at least) with the rise of artists obsessing over the sounds of the synth-filled early '80s, most likely absorbed from their parents' record collections. The upshot of this is that in bringing electronic music to the masses, it's opened the door for some more innovative artists to get their work heard, and led to some unlikely acts climbing higher in the charts that more fancied artists. Would Crystal Castles have been such a big draw in the '90s or '00s? Probably not.
So where does Rhys Hughes' Blockhouse Bay fit into all of this? With 'Duality' being his debut album under this guise, he will have watched these musical trends come and go, all the while defining his own sound, one that does come under the electro-pop banner, but one that doesn't sit still for very long. Chart success is almost impossible to predict and often relies on one lucky break, with many of the best bands barely getting a look in. If the upbeat, radio and dancefloor ready 'One Of Us' had been released by an established name it would most likely have plenty of sales racked up already. It combines credibility with bucket-loads of fun; not the easiest combination to pull off. The female vocals and piano of 'Higherground' give a distinct mid-'90s alt-pop vibe and could be another potential hit.
It's the combination of the modern and the retro that seems to be the signature of 'Duality'. 'Supernatural' could be a remix of a track from thirty years ago and is a big highlight. Again it has "fun" tattooed across its forehead but the dark undertones give it enough edge to span those music borders and dip its toes into the alternative. 'Waterworlds' does this too but in a different way, as does 'Clover'. At first it hints at being a brooding slow-burner, but as it develops it mixes pop hooks with less mainstream production. The mid-album palate-cleanser of 'Temple Garden' is great. Boasting a more "band" type of dynamic and draped in maudlin strings, this trip-hoppy number makes for a refreshing change, not that one was needed in particular, but once you hear it, it serves its purpose brilliantly. Plus, surprises are ace, right?
Then it's back to the '80s with a bang on 'Borderline', and no, we don't mean it sounds like the Madonna song. Think more Human League meets Depeche Mode. Two obvious comparisons maybe, but they fit perfectly and you can imagine this having been a big seller for either band, especially the latter. That decade is approached again on 'Worlds Apart', but here that dreaded sax sound appears. You know the one, it plagued the airwaves for years on songs like 'Careless Whisper' and 'Your Latest Trick', but thankfully Blockhouse Bay has a bit more taste and doesn't allow it to take over. That said, it's still potentially the weakest song on the album as a result. This may be down to personal preference, but when the overall standard has been so high, anything that lessens it even slightly will be spotted. By the time we finish up at 'Enough Is Enough, you realise that at some point in space and time, each and every song on 'Duality' has the potential to be (or to have been) a hit single, and that's pretty good going for an entire album. The overwhelming sense is that Blockhouse Bay wouldn't have allowed anything on here to be considered filler, and the result is a record that transcends both time, and to a certain extent, genre as well. And what can be more current than that?
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