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Styrofoam - Nothing's Lost

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Artist: Styrofoam

Album: Nothing's Lost

Label: Morr Music

Review date: Nov. 16, 2004

In addition to being a sometime touring member of the Notwist, Arne Van Petegem, a.k.a. Styrofoam, is a producer, songwriter and integral member of Brussels, Belgium’s burgeoning new music community. Nothing’s Lost, his latest for celebrated indie-tronic label Morr Music, is full of the delicate, digitally enhanced romantic stylings fans have come to expect from the label.

Petegem calls in quite a few favors on his new release. Ben Gibbard of American indie-rock superstars Death Cab for Cutie makes an appearance, as does brainy hip-hop cinematographer Alias and Lali Puna songbird Valerie Trebelijar. Turns with Andrew Kenny of post-rock snoozers American Analog Set and Bent Van Looy of international dream-pop stars Das Pop give the record an all-in-the-family feel. The result is a solid, if not predictable emo-tronic excursion.

There’s plenty here to recommend, particularly if you’re a fan of easy-going bohemian musings and crunchy, IDM-lite Bjork-isms. Perhaps aiming for the most chic background album of the year, Styrofoam pays plenty of attention to the details, yet leaves enough melodic ambiguity to soothe heart-sick indie-rockers and post-ecstasy clubbers alike.

The Notwist’s Marcus Archer contributes elegantly deconstructed guitar lines to opening track “Misguided,” which also features Trebelijar’s mellow croons in addition to a rare rhyme appearance from Alias. The bulk of the track centers around Styrofoam’s dispassionate latte poetics, snuggled inside gurgling synth arpeggios and snap-and click digital percussion. Lyrically, Styrofoam’s bittersweet ruminations are earnest enough, and the line I still believe that if things can change then they change for the better is well phrased and poignant, and when Alias drops his stuttering speedbump of a rhyme, all is well in the world of cross-continental bedroom production.

“Front to Back,” featuring Andrew Kenny on lead vocals, is even better; his whispering coos are more subtly effective than Petegem’s, and the track’s bittersweet ambient sweeps and gritty rhythms are an evocative blend. I read your diary from front to back / Spine is cracked from where you bended it, Kenny sings, capturing the gentle ache and vacuum left by departing lovers. Possibly one of the finer digi-pop tunes of the year, it’s hard not to be swept up in the track’s lilting melodramatics.

Loaded with syrupy metaphors, Nothing’s Lost is probably best heard through the filter of nascent romance. I want to wear you like a crown / but you just treat me like a clown, sings Bent Van Looy on “Anything,” and although the line is nothing more than sentimental pap, there’s enough sincerity in the delivery to forgive the high-school notebook sentiment.

When judged as a whole, Nothing’s Lost is not much more than another wistful electronic pop affair. Track for track, however, points of wholehearted ardor occur. When they do, the album achieves a graceful sublimity that surpasses similar efforts of its kind.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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