For five years, local duo Michael John Hancock and Brian Robertson of Awesome New Republic have made hipsterized pop that sounds like some dead future from the '80s. They self-describe as "punk, soul, R&B," but that hardly probes the bloggy depths of the ANR enigma. It's way more complicated than just crossbreeding genres. In fact, Awesome New Republic is like a Pro Tools-powered tuneage collider that eats a bazillion bits of sonic matter (synthy soul, sci-fi folk, New Wave-y disco, etc.) and poops retro-futuristic fireworks for your ears.
Beginning with 2005's Pitchfork-approved debut, ANR So Far, and continuing through the recent double-volume release of Rational Geographic, the pair have been orchestrating those kind of intricately arranged musical starbursts with nary a misstep -- except, um, the soulful white boy crooning. And, unfortunately, the latest Awesome New Republic album Hearts (out October 27 via Honor Roll Music) suffers from the same thing.
I mean, really, I don't get it ... Maybe the members of ANR are millennial babies with an accelerated sense of irony and I just can't keep up. But Hancock's vocals ape George Michael when he should be digging into Here Come the Warm Jets era Eno or maybe even Brian Ferry circa Roxy Music. Occasionally, the slick singing works, but mostly it turns catchy tracks into cloying indie-dance experiments. And so, Hearts songs such as "Dances When," "Dark Water," and "Last Drop" don't quite achieve the minor masterpiece status they deserve.
That said, the fourth cut from Hearts' tracklist, "Digital World," is one of those three-minute magical moments when the ANR machine makes a perfectly symmetrical musical poop. The pristine instrumentals are there and the vocals get dialed back a bit. It's a dazzling little hipster sci-fi disco-pop power ballad.
Awesome New Republic - "Digital World"
With Neon Indian. Thursday, October 15. Rokbar, 1905 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Show starts at midnight, and there's no cover. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-674-4397; rokbarmiami.com