It's not hard to see why '80s-style guitar-spiked technopop appeals to modern bands like The Killers and Pitty Sing. That buzzing, shifting, electro-sheen sound has a cinematic quality. Anyone can write broken-heart songs, but this music is more like the soundtrack to a stylish action-romance, where the lovelorn are spattered with exquisitely photographed blood and rain. Even though Pitty Sing's self-titled debut probably won't have the commercial impact of The Killers' Hot Fuss, the bands are united in the way they trample past good taste on the way to kitschy overdramatization.
Pitty Sing makes marvelous sport of its opening-set excess. Following a bombastic intro, the band pummels through "Hanging On Me," which shoots laser-gun synths and clanging guitar over a procession of soaring bridges and choruses. The propulsive, rhythmic "Bleeding Hearts," the John Waite/Ultravox pastiche "We're On Drugs," and the syrupy uplift of "CTWYL" (which stands for "change the way you live") all treat trashy old Top 40 as an illuminated text. But the back half of Pitty Sing sounds relatively lackluster. Aside from the charged single "Radio"reminiscent of early U2 and Icicle Works, and ideal backing music for any scene from Pretty In Pinkthe album sputters to a close. The problem with borrowed inspiration is that it's not as sturdy as the real stuff.
French technopop act M83 has a better handle on how to sustain a mood. The band's second album, Before The Dawn Heals Us, doesn't strictly repeat the staggering waves of sound that made its debut, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, so immediately impressive, which means it's also not as tiresomely single-minded. Before The Dawn Heals Us shows more range, while approaching the giddy pomposity of '80s European movie scorers like Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream, and Goblin.
The results are entertaining and uniquely moving. Following the grand march of the album-opener, "Moon Child," Before The Dawn jumps into "Don't Save Us From The Flames," which has bandleader and primary instrumentalist Anthony Gonzalez cutting from near-silence to apocalyptic layers of drum rolls, organ, handclaps, choir, and guitars. Dead Cities connected My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno just for the sake of doing it, but Before The Dawn pushes distortion and drift into the realm of the sacred. Few individual songs stand out, aside from the ironically angelic "Teen Angst" and its arresting coda "Can't Stop," but like MBV's Loveless, Before The Dawn is meant to be digested whole, so listeners can move through the stages of fear and hope along with Gonzalez. With Before The Dawn Heals Us, M83 has written and recorded a kind of secular Mass, dull at times and transcendent at others, but overall a stunning example of how to turn sound into ceremony.