Album Reviews

Scraps – Electric Ocean

(Fire) UK release date: 10 March 2014

Scraps - Electric Ocean Did someone just sit on that Casio keyboard? Well? Where is that noise coming from? Is someone playing that wretched E.T. game? What the hell is that?

Heavy on 8-bit skronking, embellished by 16-bit wailing and underpinned by the simplest, driest keyboard-demo beats, Scraps, aka Laura Hill, makes sounds no doubt indebted to her parents’ childhoods. You don’t have to be a hardened veteran of The Video Game Crash of 1983 to dig these weird little songscapes, but you do have to have a sense of humour. A good sense of humour, at that. The tracks that make up Scraps’ record are so reminiscent of various arcade games and forgotten synth records that it could easily become an exercise in investigative googling. Pong-sounding percussion? Check. Space Invaders’ unhinged squeals? Check. Draconus’ baroque introductory racket? You betcha.

There’s a distinctly plastic reek of disinterred synth-pop which, lest we forget, was contemporaneous to the advent of classic video-gaming – and equally as responsible for some of the most contagious mind-worms in the history of recorded music. Be sure, there’s an enormous dollop of the second and third Suicide albums’ sweet sounds here to pleasure the arcade-phobic, which makes for a hugely satisfying listen, seeing as most bands that attempt to ‘do a Suicide’ end up ripping off the first record, and very shoddily at that (unless you’re Dirty Beaches).

If you’re not familiar with the brain-meltingly euphoric sounds that arcade game manufacturers commissioned, particularly in the ’80s, there’s a Wikipedia entry devoted to filling the gap in your knowledge. In terms of Atari games, the soundtracks range from the wired-techno of the Zybex main theme, to the throbbing groove of the opening title music of Paperboy.

Anyone looking for the most surreal sonic video-game buffet would be advised to check out the 16-bit Sega soundtracks – particularly the oddball synth-bhangra of Streets Of Rage and the bizarre techno-thrash heard on Thunder Force IV’s opening theme. These irritatingly catchy compositions were intended for a single purpose – to thrill. Scraps’ relentlessly enjoyable pieces don’t have the same full-throttle, eardrum-bursting dynamics, but they’re no less entertaining.

Having copped the album title from one of The Cult’s meatiest album tracks, Scraps kicks off Electric Ocean with Mushroom Gods, where a keyboard-demo beat is gradually joined by OMD synth washes and Laura Hill’s monotone muffled musings. Instrumental track Lonely Motorbike has grimy, pitch-shifted synths that undulate over a clicking calypso beat, before giving way to a cacophonous coda of echoing percussion.

Saphire is one of the less gamey tunes – it’s more in the realms of musty synth-pop, where clicking and popping synthesised drums and hissing, sibilant synthesised cymbals combine with Hill’s wispy sighs. The title track builds up from a thudding beat into a New Wave ballad, similar to The Cure most reflective early work.

More New Wave sonics appear on closing track Gone, where Hill’s breathy higher register evokes Björk at points. Conversely, Flying could come from a Top Gun game, such is the uplifting, euphoric breeze wafting around the track. The highlight of the record is probably Asleep, which is a moody, technicolour ditty that seems to be the most potent track here – the popping percussion sounds and washing vocal effects are set to 11 – and the dreamy quality Hill imbues her music with is most effective on tracks like this.

Penultimate number Holiday sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on a Cabaret Voltaire binge, and Laura Hill’s vocals echo and bounce around the track, which becomes completely disorienting at points. Projections goes back to OMD for inspiration, and returns with a dreamy keyboard line and danceable beat – it has the same kind of spastic energy that made tracks like Georgia so exciting a few generations back.

Laura Hill’s DIY ethos and singular vision not only excuse the one-dimensional moments on this record, but turn them into the moments you’ll return to most. The rhythmic drive and melodic bent you can find on both OMD’s Organisation – and Atari’s 8-bit soundtracks – is present throughout, and never feels like a chore. The tracks on Electric Ocean belong to the dancefloors and bedrooms of 1984, but are given one last triumphant spin by an artist whose love for her record collection is second only to her enthusiasm to replicate it. It’s an exercise in unabashed nostalgia, and is a glorious success.

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