New York’s POP. 1280 started out as a noise-rock band in 2009, which is understandable given the musical heritage of their home city. But over the years they’ve ditched the guitars and now occupy a borderland between proto-industrial and post-punk landscapes. 2019’s Way Station cemented their new-found creativity as a synth-heavy artist, and fans of that record will be pleased to learn that the band intend to continue on this trajectory with Museum on the Horizon.
One listen to the squelch bass loop of the opening title track should be enough to hook you in, but the Christian Death fervour of the vocals will make sure you remain in the dark corner of a Hamburg peep show swirling your half-empty glass of Coca-Cola. POP. 1280 are precise in what they want to achieve over the ten songs of this record. It’s 1983 all over again in that wonderful pre-industrial/experimental punk era when few of the artists had any musical training or understanding how to create melody using synthesisers and sequencers. The darker side of 1980s pop and electronic music owes a lot to this time in history, and POP. 1280 give us no reason to dispute this on the messy guitar-infused post-punk of ‘Non Compliant’, with its Kraftwerk synth patterns and sultry vocals. The latter sound more like improvised performance art monologues than sophisticated melodies, yet the venomous snarls give the music a manic edge from the anti-establishment age of Gang of Four and the early records from The Stranglers (think ‘No More Heroes’).
Those of you that prefer a heavier guitar approach to music will appreciate the syncopated bass line powering through ‘Not Too Deep’. Listen to it for a second time, and you’ll pink up on the Pet Shop Boys hook circa 1986 but with a neo-gothic melodrama residing in the unhinged vocals. They deliver a decent chorus here, but it remains anchored in an introspective dance beat for lonely virgins – just like the greats of the mid-80s. Indeed, ‘Two Body Problem’, asks the question: “What if Swans were listening to Depeche Mode in 1983 rather than Throbbing Gristle?” It’s a brave decision to build a ballad from minimalist keyboard atmospherics and synth beeps, and there’s no place to hide if you’re relying on this to provide the backdrop for an Ian Curtis-esque moment of reflection.
Sometimes they fall too deep into the rehearsal of a vocal line rather than an execution of one. ‘Human Factor’ is guilty of this despite the awesome aggro of the synth-bass at the beginning. ‘Threads’ is the same but more like The Pop Group dropping their dub elements in favour of the psychobabble of Mark E. Smith and The Fall. Yet end track, ‘Force Majeure’, captures POP. 1280 at their best. Here they give us luscious keyboard notes, out-of-breath baritone vocals, synthetic dance beats, and a sorrowful goth chorus that sways into euphoric EBM territory in the way it changes key.
Museum on the Horizon reminds you that the artists from the early 1980s had the ideas but not the musical equipment to realise the full potential of their artistic vision. Imagine what That Total Age by Nitzer Ebb would have sounded like with the mid-range layering of POP. 1280 balancing the aggression of their beats and bass grooves… You should listen to this record for that reason alone, although there are many more to justify an evening with these New Yorkers.
Release Date: 24/09/2021
Record Label: Profound Lore
Standout tracks: Museum on the Horizon, Not Too Deep, Force Majeure
Suggested Further Listening: Nitzer Ebb – Ebbhead (1991), Gost – Rites of Love and Reverence (2021), Pet Shop Boys – Please (1986)