We Can Never Go Home by Styrofoam

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Styrofoam | We Can Never Go Home
Sound In Silence (CDR/DL)

Out on Grecian label Sound In Silence is the latest from Belgian electronic artist Styrofoam (Arne Van Petegem), his first release in eight years, We Can Never Go Home.  These eight new tracks kickstart with the softened videogame vibes of Fully Present. It’s a multicolored world allowing in some crunchy half beats to balance the drippy synths. Van Petegem uses bright tones in a style similar to some latter day Tangerine Dream. It Isn’t Real So It Doesn’t Count has got this allure that straddles retro 80s commercial electronica with that of a poppy car commercial. Still what is eeked out seems to draw from several sources like a hybrid of the lexicon of archival wires and knobs  – hence this is pure electronic music with a modernized take on the old school. It’s a friendly, uplifting sound.

The ‘speak + spell’ effect of The Crook Of Your Elbow is dreamlike in this ultra stylized way. Styrofoam does not shy away from the brazenly slick sound that could easily become background music for an assortment of retail products by mixing his tightly synthetic signatures to a twee beat structure. On one hand it’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek wink, on the other you can’t blame a guy for attempting to get a paycheck. Aside from this he’s obviously playing with the listener with a title like Did Your Mouth Buy You This Scar? It’s a coy reference for anyone who has ever purchased a pair of torn jeans in a mall or boutique. His rhythmic sound flows so smoothly here, with a slightly toned down atmosphere that makes it ripe for mixing. I can easily imagine the guitar chords he eventually adds being contorted into something much more architectural in nature.  The thin icy mix uses the edges of reverb to break through the glass ceiling of numb to a certain extent.

The minor effects that open Love Restores Almost Everything remind me of some of the early ambient work by Moby’s alter-ego Voodoo Child. It’s the first time on the record where a sense of composition by way of layers seems to shine brightly in this savvy intersection of soft and hard sound designs twisting righteously. It is a glimpse into his more skillful abstract aesthetic, and likely the place in which Van Petegem shines brightest. As odd as it may sound as a reference, I hear early 70s riffs of The Who in the lines of We Can Never Go Home. No, really – it’s like a contemporary electronic take on Baba O’Riley. Aside from this musing, the fuzzy abstract meandering turns into a poppy techno track, which, again, breaks this record into parts rather than a conceptual long-player. Taking yet another turn on This Terrible And Beautiful World.

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Parts of this sound like a broken music box, rife in blurpy bits and a low-end that carries a finely woven mix. The more I listen the more I fall deeper into the way in which these tracks have been sequenced. At first it was far too ‘commercial-lite’ for my ears that require some tension and a dose of reality. If you stick with it the sound becomes more refined and daring, and it gets better + better + better as you move through We Can Never Go Home. It gives credence to those who wish to divorce the everyday. Which takes us to the finale, Blind Spot Safety Procedure, the lengthiest track at just about nine minutes. It’s a speckled bit of incidental mood music. This will please many who might appreciate a distant cousin of Boards of Canada and the like. It’s actually a bit of a shoegazer and a dazzling bit of minimal electronic music, where after three minutes a clean pop beat is added, circling back to the beginning.

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