By: Eric Greenwood
Figurine"s The Heartfelt is the best argument for the synthesizer that I"ve heard in a long time. Living up to its name – or down rather – Figurine"s music sounds small and insular. The warm analogue tones conflict with the icy detachment of the monotone male and female vocal stylings and robotic rhythms, but the electro-pop melodies bridge such incongruities quite well. Surface influences range from Pet Shop Boys and Kraftwerk to the lo-fi electronic succinctness of everybody"s favorite trash-talking gay muse, Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.
Despite constantly recalling early 1980"s synth-pop luminaries like the Human League, Figurine stumbles upon its own unique brand of downbeat pop through songwriting that"s paradoxically both primitive and sophisticated. "International Space Station II" is eerily hypnotic with its layered synthetics and distant, mutated cries. The light syncopation underscores the deadpan spoken-word banter, creating an otherworldly introduction to this trio"s second album. "Impossible" expands on the dark theme of the opener but injects a bouncy programmed beat a la early Depeche Mode, and the vocal inflection recalls New Order"s Bernard Sumner at his most dejected. The melodies are just too good to ignore.
On "Rewind" Figurine incorporates its first organic instrument, the acoustic guitar. The effect is much like that of Madonna"s "Don"t Tell Me"- a cross-hybrid pop song that fuses squishy electronics with something as mundane as an acoustic guitar melody for a sound that is inexplicably modern. The metaphor of the rewind button on a tape machine to explore a failing relationship only enhances the band"s retro-futuristic-camp personality. "Way Too Good" is pure electro-pop heaven. Galloping drum machines hammer out simplistic beats while understated keyboard melodies sway underneath the predictably wooden vocal delivery.
The Heartfelt is more serious than anything Figurine has released thus far. There"s nothing really indie about it in terms of sound either, and that"s a refreshing change of pace for a band that could easily get lost in the sea of resurgent new wavers with high-end personal computers. The production is immaculate. Figurine really draws you into its robotic netherworld. From ethereal escapes like "Stranger" to the more obvious pop songs like "Time (His Mix)", Figurine swaddles you in velvety synthesizers and bubbling electronic percussion, but it"s the calculated detachment and boredom that really sets it apart. The band has truly captured the essence of early 1980"s ennui and romanticism.
Even obvious Depeche Mode derivations like "Our Game (Is Over)" with its somewhat cheesy video game lyrical analogy comes off endearing, partly because of its unexpected dark musical breakdown/detour through familiar video game sound effects and clever vocoder usage. The male/female vocal trade-offs on "So Futuristic" sound like a depressing re-enactment of the Human League"s "Don"t You Want Me?", but it works because the delivery is so convincing and the melody is so immediate. The same could be said of The Heartfelt as a whole. Figurine proves to be much deeper than just another batch of technophiles obsessed with the 1980"s.