MOTHXR vocalist Penn Badgley starred in all 121 episodes of Gossip Girl, but MOTHXR’s debut album, Centerfold, does not reflect typical sensuality or romance and is not a glamorous album. New Romantic synth-sludge embalms every hook, and only Badgley’s whisper escapes intact. Bassist and producer Johnny Giannopoulos extracted Depeche Mode’s cold seduction and congealed it with a mawkish aesthetic. Centerfold is an absolute joy to listen to.
Nothing escapes Centerfold’s boggy singularity like Badgley’s emotionless voice. He sounds like a robotic entrepreneur in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, despite never singing of intimacy. On “Underground,” Badgley chants “She’s underground,” and on “Touch,” he sings “She’s a sad girl.” Whoever “she” is, her aesthetic permeates every compressed fiber that comprises this album. Rather than tenderly singing about women, Badgley chants “Let me sink my teeth in” toward them. There’s nothing endearing about Centerfold, but it promises a fatal attraction.
The title track paints a monochromatic portrait of a centerfold who crawls instead of struts, cries instead of sings, and visits war zones to unwind rather than corner-shops. Guitar strokes are tightly gripped at the neck, suffocated by tight production and atypical undercurrents. “Fight the Feeling” features percussion that clipping might use if they exclusively produce with GarageBand. Airy hi-hats vivaciously escape Centerfold’s singularity along with echoing toms.
Although MOTHXR creates an attractive, slick aesthetic, they do not get particularly creative with it. Every resonant synth key can be predicted seconds before it’s heard. Guitar solos and walls of sound are reserved for the end as “Easy” and “Fight the Feeling” go uncannily bonkers at the end, and the last track, “I Can See You’ll Never Make it Out,” feels desperate and overlong. MOTHXR explored the decadent basin of New Romantic dystopia’s pits and excavated a dark, amethyst gem with Centerfold.
Recommended If You Like: TR/ST, Blood Orange, Mansions on the Moon