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Generationals: Reader As Detective

You don’t have to like Stranger Things to enjoy Generationals’ new album—but it helps.

Every decade has its day, and I suppose it’s the 80s’ turn to get monetized. Back when your mom was dressed up in a puffy lamé ball gown and your dad was playing football for the coach, all the cool kids were shoveling out to see Grease 2 and listening to “Rock This Town” on the way there. Nostalgia is nothing new. Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner seem to understand that.

The New Orleans-based duo describes themselves as “students of an analog school actualized in a digital medium” (eye roll). They feel most comfortable “reveling in this juxtaposition” (second, more dramatic eye roll). Pretension aside, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Generationals are on about. These punks wanna pluck the New Wave outta 1982 and drop it into the late 2010s, where it can breathe and grow, and certainly be thankful for having avoided that whole rock revival mess.

But does their latest album, Reader as Detective, do more than regurgitate New Order synth licks?

Well—er—yes.

Back to Stranger Things (which I bring up not because the opening track “I’ve Been Wrong Before” sounds like the theme song set in a major key, though it totally does). Stranger Things sits at the head of this whole 80s phase everybody seems to be going through all of a sudden. Yeah, it’s a cash grab, but what’s smart about the show is how it incorporates all these 80s aesthetics and allows them to be fully realized in a modern, episodic mode of storytelling. Generationals wants the same thing, only musically.

“Enough theory you snoot. Does it slap?”

Caught between antiquity and modernity, Reader is plunged into that expanding ocean of eighties-gone-ethereal. Which isn’t to say it hasn’t got some serious bops. “Breaking Your Silence,” one of three singles, comes off like a crossbreed of BRONCHO and The War on Drugs. It’s a solid representation of the more contemporary side of the album. Then there’s “Gatekeeper.” It’s funky, heavy on the base, in the tradition of ye olde thatcher-era dance hall jams. “A List of the Virtues” is the most balanced of all ten tracks and probably the best song on the album. It’s where they come closest to realizing their goal of uniting past and present in order to create a future most groove-alicious.

So yes, it slaps.

The lyrics here are ineffectual in that poignant way only New Romantic synth pop is capable of. If they are politically motivated, it’s in that Depeche Mode, “People Are People” sense where it’s too vague to really bite. Take “I Turned My Back on the Written Word” for example. The hook is some looped nonsense from an unreleased b-side, and it’s the catchiest thing on the whole dang LP!

The album’s title, Reader As Detective, is all you need to know to gauge the lyrical value. It probably means something to the artist, but to the audience it just sounds catchy.

So, is Reader as good as the New Wave-ers it derives from? No. Maybe the energy that could have put these songs over the edge got lost in production. Still, I’ll take this over new Echo and the Bunnymen any day of the week.

Let’s be clear, Generationals doesn’t need to be mistaken for anything other than what they are: a steady outfit putting out three-minute tracks you can really groove to—which is more than you can say about most of what passes for “dream-pop” these days. Reader as Detective is solid front to back. Give it a whirl next time your friend passes you the aux. Maybe throw some Modern English in there; she won’t notice.

Recommended If You Like: The War On Drugs, BRONCHO, MGMT, Carriers
Recommended Tracks: 2 (I Turned My Back on the Written Word), 3 (Breaking Your Silence), 4 (A List Of Virtues)
Do Not Play: 6 (Xeno Bobby)
Written by Lily Swanson on 10/18/2019