If any readers regularly follow On Vinyl’s Vinyl List, it will already be blindingly obvious that my own passion for music stems from and resides somewhere in the capability to create entire worlds for an audience to imagine, to inhabit and (ideally) to learn from. These worlds can be based in mood, shepherding listeners and eliciting particular emotions, or they can be based in thought and wonder, transporting listeners to a place that feels almost-physical. The best music, I would argue, is that which combines the somatic and the spiritual, carefully constructing a soundscape and a corporeal experience that appeals to both.
With their upcoming LP Oceansoft, Wonderbitch have committed mind and soul to creating this all-encompassing musical experience for their listeners through a modern reimagining of 1980s new wave synth-pop that they affectionately deem “new yacht rock.” The transportive nature of their music is both physical and temporal, their shiny blend of new whisking listeners away to “an alternate dimension 1980s where money doesn’t matter and nature is taking over civilization,” and what an adventure it is.
The opening track, aptly named “The Womb,” is a smooth introduction to this new dimension, simultaneously sedating and encouraging us. We are invited to explore a new beginning, a new reality, that immediately defines itself as relaxed, but not without purpose. It is the sound of waking up beach-side, greeted by a most picture-perfect sunrise that rouses us to make something out of our freedom. The atmospheric calm that settles upon us is interrupted—but not disrupted— by a pensive saxophone that shakes off some of the morning dew just in time for a gradually quickening steel drum to kickstart our day.
And bam. Just like that we have arrived and acclimated to a new surrounding, one tinged in the spirit of the 80s. The title track “Oceansoft” is a microcosm of the band’s efforts to revive the invigoration and thrill of 1980s pop music; electro piano twinkles over a bouncy bass line to punctuate some undeniably 80s vocals from lead singer Alex Chod. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes his vocal delivery so irrepressibly vintage, but somewhere in the swell of the chorus and the polish of his verses he manages to perfectly encapsulate the energy that the likes of David Bowie, David Byrne and Steely Dan brought to their generation. Over the course of the 10-track album, Wonderbitch visits the keystones of this most influential decade in music: synthesizers abound, funky basslines rule the world and the keyboard is a birthing ground for unlikely noises.
Far from being a stale pastiche of the decade, however, Wonderbitch breathe new life into an era of music that most left far behind. The key to this, of course, is the group’s remarkable musicianship and creativity. While the music of the 80s was somewhat limited, due in large part to an over-reliance on the processed and packaged sounds of drum machines and synthesizers, Wonderbitch have realized an incredible capability to recreate those sounds without the limitations of those mediums. Though Chod’s vocals seem to lay at the center of the group’s sound that is equal parts power ballad, psych rock and new wave pop, the key to the 80s-revival theme, I think, lies less in the front-man than in the band surrounding him. With sparkling synths and glimmering keyboards indulging frivolity and fun, impressive agility on the guitar and bass keep the music’s heartbeat firmly in line with the pulse of disco music.
My own personal favorite track, “Rain in the Congo,” is a sleek and stylish number that melds glam metal and synth-pop flawlessly. It is dramatic and inescapably catchy; even in the context of an album filled with ear-worming hooks, the raw refrain of “When things go wrong/We’ll be good and ready” has a particularly staying quality that refuses to let go of the subconscious mind. It’s a song that could, and should, be played as an aspiring daredevil prepares for a death-defying stunt.
With Oceansoft, Wonderbitch have emphatically embraced the ethos of the eighties in all its extravagance, but trimmed down some of the excess fat. They are a lithe, luxurious incarnation that borrows from the best aspects of the decade’s music— the relentlessly poppy cheer of synth-pop, the heady avant-garde conceptualism of new wave music (especially the Talking Heads), the funky basslines of, well, funk—but refines it into a dynamic, efficient and wholly new beast. Though in modern terms the album reminded me most vividly of Blood Orange’s astonishing debut Cupid Deluxe, the closest historical adjacent that comes to mind is New Order. Wonderbitch displays a degree of musicianship that was lacking (in part out of necessity) in the 80s’ new wave of pop music, while at the same time subsuming the self-aware ridiculousness that new wave embodied.
Even as the group encourages their listeners to explore some heavy concepts, such as the material attachments that destine us to a love of dissatisfaction and frustration and the disconnect between an individual and their ego, the music is buoyant and propulsive. We are not necessarily invited to stay in this alternate dimension and world, only to inhabit it for a time and learn from it. Even the outro “The Dive” is surprisingly cathartic, gently welcoming us back to the real world with a refrain of “The world’s got nothing on/On the real” that pointedly reminds us that we have not been in the real world —though it does not necessarily indicate that the “real” is the world that we experience and interact with every day. The suggestion and sentiment, to me at least, is that the real is whatever we want it to be; that the realest thing of all is possibility and choice itself. Just as we can choose a world saturated in the aura of the 80s (if but for a time), we can choose to live whatever reality we choose. We just have to make the most out of it.
Listen & Pre-order
Listen to the title track “Oceansoft” below:
Preorder the LP here.
Photo credit to Wonderbitch