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Led Er Est - The Diver

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Artist: Led Er Est

Album: The Diver

Label: Sacred Bones

Review date: May. 7, 2012

Continuing Sacred Bones’s apparent dedication to reviving minimal synth and cold wave, The Diver recalls 1970s and ’80s acts like Cabaret Voltaire, The Wake and DAF. It’s a familiar formula, one that has already been reprised with some success by Wierd Records artists Martial Canterel, Xeno & Oaklander and Automelodi: Ice-cold synth melodies are accelerated by frenetic drum machine patterns and ragged guitar riffs whilst a moody vocalist intones bleak lyrics in a barely-audible post-shoegaze moan.

It’s interesting that, whilst so much of modern alternative music is dominated by “retromania” (an intense and all-encompassing (genre-wise) focus on styles generally considered to be of the past), you get the feeling that records like The Diver don’t quite qualify for festishization. It’s too faithful. The key to this retro regard — whether the genre is Goth rock or MOR or New Age — is submerging the music in the kind of haze usually associated with seriously run-down vinyl. Led Er Est’s labelmate Zola Jesus is a good example: her debut The Spoils is a near-carbon copy of early Siouxsie and the Banshees, but its lo-fi production values and occasional forays into ethereal anti-pop meant that critics were queuing up to sing Nika Roza Danilova’s praises.

I don’t think Led Er Est will be so fortunate. Samuel kK, ShawNoEQ and Owen Stokes don’t look to pollute their genre exercise with the same tools used by so many other acts. As such, The Diver is unarguably derivative, but I doubt the band wanted it any other way. “Animal Smear,” with its snarled vocals, punchy guitar break and driving percussion, is a spiky burst of synthetic punk descendent of John Foxx’s early incarnation of Ultravox. Later tracks have a more bare bones structure, and again one thinks of Foxx, this time of his debut solo album, Metamatic, a work that probably laid down the blueprint for just about every minimal synth act that has followed. And, as I said before, listening to The Diver is like being given a crash course in every European synth-pop band that ever existed.

There is and always will be an audience for bands like Led Er Est, either nostalgics for the periods they echo, or simply fans of anything synth-related. So, even if The Diver is too lacking in originality for many, it does what it says on the tin, with verve, energy and a keen sense of what went before. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

By Joseph Burnett

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