On Apples and Synthesizers, his fifth album—and first on the rightly lauded Ann Arbor-based label Ghostly International—Canadian tech-savant Solvent (Jason Amm) allows the robotic tinkering behind his electro-pop to intuit, flirt, and wink, humanizing his music at a time when too many producers sterilize theirs. Solvent has led a manic label life, jumping from his co-owned imprint Suction to Ersatz Audio to Morr Music before landing at Ghostly. In the interim, he’s transformed himself into one of the industry’s foremost techno-symphonists.
After years of shape shifting, Solvent seems to have righted himself on Apples and Synthesizers, which blends classic electro and synthpop with the punchy modernity of fractured, micro-edited beats. Recent single “My Radio” is built upon an insistent beat and revolving-door synth lines; insurgent and demanding, it’s as intoxicating on the dancefloor as it is on the couch.
Elsewhere, Amm creates more subtle tension: Atop “First Step”’s pore-clogged beat and jagged landscape, self-help vocal fragments are strewn about with careful precision, adding a perplexing beauty to the elaborate, graceful track. The beat is reminiscent of the pop-funk beauty of Mouse on Mars’ recent Radical Connector, but the cacophonous Orwellian din behind the machinery speaks of DeLillo’s supermarkets. “Science With Synthesizers” locks on to the same dynamic as its synths stutter against its beat like mercury dropped into boiling water. As those synths slide out of range, a cranky whiplash beat briefly takes center stage before relenting to blue-lit micro-beats and gurgling plinks.
Solvent’s tracks are at their weakest when Amm adds vocals. Unlike his new labelmate Matthew Dear—who fuzzies his vocals with a precise shadowing that never detracted from his lyrical addition—Amm too often garbles his with a vocoder. The angular vocals on “Think Like Us” and “Remote Control” distract from Amm’s funky backdrops, and wind up blotting tight compositions. Fortunately, these tracks don’t dissuade from the general appeal of Apples and Synthesizers, a record that—like the child-like, offset typeface on its album cover—has a retro-adoration that is as antagonistic as it is innocent. Tilt your head and nod in time.