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2007-04-04My review: Spray - Living in Neon

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Spray (who? my first reaction also) have a more wide-ranging influence on and connection to British music than you'd think. This does unfortunately mean that they're connected to Teenage Life, the UK's 2006 Eurovision entry... plus that Cuban Boys hampster dance song that was fun the first time through and made you want to murder nuns by the fifty-thousandth. But the good news is that they did a cover of a very obscure 80s song used as the theme tune to a fairly obscure 80s TV show. Wait, come back.

Actually, Run With Us was by Canadians, Lisa Lougheed on vocals and Kevin Gillis on ideas, but The Raccoons was quite big in the UK way back when. Its theme tune is classic 80s feelgood: a thumping beat, positive message and enough cheese to float a mouse farm. And it's not on this album. But it is how I heard of Spray and is their current single (with an album on iTunes and to be given a CD release later in the year.)

It's probably a sign of age, of turning into an indie snob or both those things, but I'm liking retro and hunting a bit for music at the moment. This duo bill themselves as "electropop ain't never been so verbose" and serve up entertaining and authentically cheesy sound with modern production values, with lyrics that are sometimes a bit too densely packed for their own good.

The wit and electronica both work well and eventually worm their way into your head and heart, though I admit to finding the album heavy going for the first few listens. I'm not a clubber and don't really understand the appeal of remixes — I like having one good version of a song in a collection, plus maybe some live recordings if I really enjoy the band. Bands using synth as an integral part of songs rather than one instrument in an ensemble or for special effects are a whole different beast... everything's a mix. (Which can make talking about music difficult, as whoever you're talking to could be thinking of a track that's completely different. The one on the album? On the single? The one they were playing in the pub last Saturday? Bah.)

Musically I'd draw some comparisons with Weird Al's original (non-parody) songs, and maybe with Nerf Herder, who tend to write entertaining songs that draw from and reference pop culture. It's good stuff to type to, with a beat and snatches of fun lyrics rising out every so often until you're hooked. Child of the 80s and I Am Gothic (the two tracks I bought the album on the strength of) are clear standouts, but the rest has all become pleasantly familiar, Leave it to the Girls, Boys and Fashion Stigmata being particularly catchy.

When we hit the "bonus discotheque hits" for the first time I remembered most of the reservations I have about remixing... Child of the 80s, for instance, is slower and includes looped lines. But like the rest of the album, the remixes gel together better after a few listens. The first draft of this review (yes, I do draft occasionally) contained a lot of reservations about them with "Oh, sod it. I've been listening to this for a couple of days by now and it's all grown on me." written underneath later.

One criticism I will make is that printing lyrics in the packaging would've been nice — they're sometimes difficult to pick out. It also, despite the band being British, isn't very easy to get their material on CD in the UK. If you're outside the US and like silvers, you might do best to email Ninthwave Records directly — which is what I did; $14 inc. airmail is good, certainly by UK standards, and many thanks to Dave — considering there's an Amazon Marketplace seller in the UK presently trying to flog a copy for close to thirty quid and the French and German branches aren't much better. Alternatively I've found CDBaby stock them, and that site has preview clips of everything it sells.

If you're happy with iTunes, though, it's easy to get Spray stuff — with this album, plus a new one, a download-only set of mixes for Run With Us, and various other projects available. (Living In Neon is also available without DRM from AudioLunchbox, one of the few download retailers I use occasionally — 192kbps VBR MP3, for my money, preserves higher frequencies better than Apple's chosen AAC bitrate.)

Personally I'm holding out for a CD release of Spray's new album (Children of a Laser God) later in the year, which should include the 'default' mix of Run With Us and a wonderfully snarky track that was previewed on Myspace called Internet Girlfriend, plus intriguingly titled songs such as We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About. £8 for eighteen tracks from iTunes is excellent value if they're anything like Living in Neon, but my backups are original pressed CDs unless I have no other choice.

I look forward lots to more of Spray's shiny, self-possessed synth pop when it appears.

If this review has intrigued you at all, you can check out some example tracks at the band's Myspace page and find some reasonably considered reviews at Amazon US. Give them time and play Run With Us (the default mix of, yes) very, very loud.


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