Growing up in the Detroit area in the 1980s, I had the good fortune to be exposed to the Electrifying Mojo’s radio show. For years, the legendary Detroit DJ piloted a mothership that descended on the Motor City with an eclectic cargo that included synth-pop, Kraftwerk, funk, Prince, new wave, and Philly Soul. From time to time, I’d listen to the program late at night, relishing its exoticism and becoming a little more wide-eyed and -eared every time I tuned in. Of course, I didn’t realize how unique or rare the show was at the time, and certainly could never have guessed its influence on the Belleville Three and how integral the show would therefore be to the development of techno.
The members of Midwest Product, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based trio of Ben Mullins (guitars, electronics), Chad Pratt (drums, electronics), and Drew Schmeding (bass, keyboards), may have grown up catching snatches of the same sounds and spirit. Mixing electronics and live instrumentation, their second album sounds like my faded memories of the more European portions of those broadcasts—or at least the way they’re pieced together and romanticized in my mind.
On World Series of Love, the ghosts of those efficient, hook-filled synth-pop sounds dance with polished, crisp indie pop and experimental guitar as Midwest Product take a lateral step away their excellent, more electronic-based debut, Specifics. On their debut, the band occasionally droned on a bit long; here they leave everything short, trimming song lengths around the five-minute mark and delivering the album’s seven tracks in around 30 minutes. The highs may not match either Specifics’ “Still Love in the Midwest” or “Laundry”, the highlight of Ghostly International’s Idol Tryouts compilation, but the disc makes for a far more consistent listen.
The sense of humor displayed on the album’s Salinger-aping design and Prince-quoting title is found on both the pulsating yet detached new wave-meets-funk of “Bank” and the avant-pop of “Dead Cat”. Where World Series of Love really hits its stride, however, is as it winds down, with a trio of nuanced, rich tunes that put the joke book back on the shelf. “Duckpond” best fuses the band’s experimental nature and gift for melody, while the restless “Motivator”, fueled by arpeggio guitar and hollow vocals, best displays the command of dynamics that Midwest Product boasted on their debut. The short, New Order-like “Umbrella” brings the record to elegant close.
Two albums into their career and Midwest Product’s skillful live playing and deft use of electronics have placed them in a fraternity with ambient pop stars such as Markus Acher, Manual, Christian Kleine, and Ulrich Schnauss. However, unlike the best of those, the band has yet to focus in on its strength and fully explore the limits of their songwriting. Instead, they’re gleefully moving from one rewarding sound to another, relishing their range and honing their craft with a series of charming winks and nods.