By: Eric G.
Nerds make the best synth-pop, I guess, because they know how to twiddle all the right knobs, and Washington DC's Barcelona revels in its own brand of nostalgic nerdiness on its second album, Zero-One-Infinity. Sonically, it's a step forward from the band's debut, Simon Basic, but the songwriting isn't as instantly catchy. The kitsch factor is laid on pretty thick this time at the expense of some the songs' impact, but despite the obsession with everything 80's the album does manage to rise above mere retro-fluff to showcases a true knack for pop songcraft.
Jason Korzen and Jennifer Carr still share vocal duties, and their voices are by turns nasally and spastic but charming all the same. The references in each song sound more forced than they did on Simon Basic. New songs like “Studio Hair Gel” and “Paging System Operator” don't quite reach the level of sentiment of instant classics like “Why Do You Have So Much Fun Without Me?” On Simon Basic the ace in the hole was always that the songs were strong no matter how geeky or self-deprecatingly clever the lyrics were. On Zero-One-Infinity, though, it seems like the band is trying too hard to live up to its reputation for being the new purveyors of retro-indie chic.
Even its vacuous songs are hummable, though, so at its worst the band can make you sing along. “Bugs” is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It's a harmless, meaningless pop song, but Korzen's vocals are so meek and unassuming that they sound endearing over top the clean chop of the indie rock guitars. Barcelona's schtick is unique, don't get me wrong- not many bands come to mind that zero in on computer nerds consumed with 80's pop and 90's indie rock. When the band holds up all sides of its formula the result is irresistible. "I Have The Password To Your Shell Account" masters the art of 80's sequencers, and the chorus is catchy as hell with its hilarious insider-techie lyrics.
Barcelona seems far more self-aware on Zero-One-Infinity than on Simon Basic, but when the meat of the songs outweigh the window dressing of 80's nostalgia then the band is too charming to ignore. The music on "Obsoletion" sounds nervous and slightly ominous in the verse but then unfolds into a dreamy chorus. The lyrics, of course, counter any possible tension the music might create with constant human/computer comparisons. "Have You Forgotten The Bomb?" is the standout gem of the album. The speedy jangle of Korzen's guitar recalls Mark Robinson's ecstatic strumming in Unrest, and his double-tracked vocals soar in the chorus.
I think the main problem with Zero-One-Infinity is the sequencing of the tracks. The weakest songs are packed at the beginning, but by the end of the album Barcelona has won you over again with its geeky yet undeniable charm.