It’s undeniable that 80s-inspired synthpop has been a trend in recent years. For some newer bands, dancey retro-electro has been the sound they were founded on — such is the case with Portland-based indie band Starfucker (or ‘STRFKR’), who have been invested in the genre since their formation in 2007 and their self-titled album debut in 2008. With a near decade of experience in electronic pop—and a name that eye-popping—one would expect great things from STRFKR’s fifth album, Being No One, Going Nowhere. What’s delivered is a safely catchy collection of songs that mask a strangely philosophical sequence of thinking, with the form and the content of the album never quite jiving together.
Being No One and Going Nowhere are not exactly the thoughts that come to mind when I listen to upbeat synth melodies and thrumming beats. At first glance, the title sounds uncharacteristically bleak; in reality it is uncharacteristically introspective. There’s a certain blank-minded self-acceptance about the album—a Zen-like contentment with one’s place in the universe. The chorus of “Never Ever” even echoes Buddhist mantras: “…oh so good to be / free from every desire.” Buried beneath the instrumentation is a jarringly poetic set of lyrics with surprising depth. Existential questions are danced around with colourful imagery rather than blunt statements, and none of it ever feels like a confused cry for an answer. In this way it’s a rewarding listen, though I’m afraid much of the power may be lost—or rather, blocked—by the wall of sound.
If you’ve listened to just about any synthpop, or music that incorporates its elements, you know what to expect going into this. It’s the kind of hook-driven, thumping, thrumming music that fits in at a discotheque, and STRFKR handles it with practiced ease…overly practiced, in fact. The album is consistently catchy and well-
produced, but STRFKR made the strange choice to keep the sound palette relatively tight, meaning that most songs end up sounding disappointingly similar to each other. When you have more popular electronic bands like M83 or even Capital Cities switching up their sounds and finding new tricks with each grouping of effects, those albums become immediately more diverse and interesting. That’s not to say STRFKR simply needs to become more nebulous in their sonics (Kavinsky or Perturbator accomplish so much more engagement with small palettes), but I think every listener can agree that the poppy 80s have been done.
STRFKR’s latest record smothers fascinating thoughts under overbearingly familiar synthpop. Being No One, Going Nowhere deserves a listen, but more than that it deserves some more nuance in its instrumentation.