Bands like Electro Group don’t aspire to the now; their music lives in a past filled with hope, even as that hope crumbles around them. You may recall seeing their name scattered around Insound banner ads around the turn of the millennium, alongside names like Antarctica, the Blue Ontario and Beautiful Skin, the type of bands whose album covers looked like Boards of Canada releases from a distance. Steeped in the new marketplace model in which these indie label bands, washed out of the freewheeling ’90s into a monied flash of dot-com stocks, ping-pong games in the office, and bodies at desks (woefully unqualified to perform their jobs in Herman Miller chairs), it was as if 9/11’s ancillary effects were to sweep this arrogant prosperity under the rug.
That’s not just financial prosperity, by the way. I’m thinking about the relentless feel-good gusts of freedom that those of us who came of age in the ’90s got to experience. Today, reminiscing about these times – be they Lollapaloozas, raves out in an Iowa cornfield, or that time when Buy.com gave out $100 in store credit to anyone who asked – appears to strike a bitter chord with the generation to follow. They must wallow with us in political despair and recession, largely due to our overdraft on their future, having never experienced the reckless, consequence-free times that came before. Consider this while listening to Electro Group’s Good Technology, their second album in six years, and you’ll get the hint why future generations hated hippies so much. They’re haplessly rubbing our noses in the past.
Absolutely nothing on Good Technology, recorded between 2001 and 2006, sounds modern, but that’s OK; this trio of ex-Rocketship and Trance members defiantly display its affinities for the bracing wash of shoegaze guitars and the instructive, insular tones of Slumberland-grade indie pop. You’ll hear chord progressions in line with Swervedriver b-sides (“Bikini States”) and pre-Loveless My Bloody Valentine (“Trauma”), and an adoption of the beardo strum adopted by Built to Spill (“The Rule,” fashioned around a strong-legged acoustic riff that props up a shambling, melodic wander). You’ll also hear the sort of tape-on-the-keys trickery that graced early Stereolab on “August,” its needling keyboard loop acting as a corkboard for a wandering guitar lead and a corrective counter-melody, tapped out on the glockenspiel. Thematically, the simple, positive refrain of “Raise Your Head” masks the downfall of such optimism with its simple repeated phrases atop a melancholy glaze of distortion. Tim Jacobson’s falsetto vocals center themselves between Doug Martsch’s and Bilinda Butcher’s; unsurprisingly, I needed to do a gender check on him after the first spin. But despite these brazen swipes at the past, it becomes clear early on that their appropriation comes out of unrequited love for its subject matter, a refactored shot at a past without the scene drama and diminished returns of the real thing.
Maybe the logic is that if fans are still holding on this long, they’re entitled to a chaff-free reprise of the butter years. And, ultimately, that’s what Electro Group delivers – a full 30 minutes or so of glory that outstrips modern answers (the abysmal jet engine pummel of A Place to Bury Strangers, etc.) and is happy to sing you a familiar song over and over. There’s a reason why PBS affiliates still air old episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show, a reason why VH1 Classic exists at all. Consider this a peaceful return to the blinding lights and deafening shocks of the past.