Appearances may not be everything, but they still say an awful lot. Art d’Ecco’s jet-black bob, draggy makeup, and loud outfits may be a purely visual element, but they might as well be audible. His androgynous glam aesthetic recalls a period that saw rock as a genre temporarily spun off and divorced from dull masculinity in favor of theatricality and flamboyant self-expression. It’s no accident that his glam rock sound echoes his visually striking style, as well as the New Romantics and Aladdin Sane-era Bowie. Recorded in analog, his second solo album, In Standard Definition (★★★★☆), is an energetic and extravagant love letter to a pre-digital age of mass media.
If Art’s style and appearance are the initial draw, the album’s strong start makes a compelling case for a listener to stick around. The opening track, “Desires,” is a stomping, pulsing tribute to the stars and performers of yesteryear that plays nicely into the album’s strengths — crisp production, theatrical bombast, and punky, charismatic vocals that stretch around conceptual, alliterative lyrics.
There’s something nostalgic and even charming about Art d’Ecco’s preoccupation with the more analog, channel-surfing days of entertainment. Midway through the album, as if to drive the point home, the warm, buzzy synths of two instrumental tracks, “Channel 7 (Pilot Season)” and “Channel 10 (Reruns)” shimmer with nostalgia for pre-internet network television. Reminiscent of ’80s bumper music and station idents, it stretches out the sound into a comforting, minute-long interlude. As if to ground us in an era of entertainment now transformed beyond recognition, Art closes out the album with “I Remember,” a sunny, acoustically-driven track laden with reminiscing for sights and sounds that live only in memory.
While In Standard Definition is full of warm, cozy throwbacks, Art d’Ecco is too savvy to allow the album to get completely mired in nostalgia. There is a palpable dark edge even to rollicking dance floor bangers like “Head Rush” and “I Am The Dance Floor.” Meanwhile, over ’80s synths, “Good Looks” takes on a distinctly contemporary anxiety with its send-up of dating apps. The sinister side of our fixation on small glowing screens rears its head throughout the album. Still, it comes into full view on “TV God,” a swaggering, proto-punk missive on the hypnotic power of media and its attendant cult of celebrity.
Any attempt to deal with the anxiety and alienation fostered by mass media puts an artist in risky territory. Panics over the effects of media on society go back to the invention of writing itself, and anyone who wants to tackle this subject matter had better have an interesting way to package it. With this album, Art d’Ecco handily more than proves he is up to the task. In Standard Definition is an album unlike almost anything that has come out in years, with cohesion, clarity, and a downright infectious glam rock energy that make for an absorbing listen from beginning to end.
In Standard Definition will be available for streaming and purchase via Paper Bag Records starting Friday, April 23.
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