It's been 30 years since New Order proved that you could create soul music with sequencers and drum machines, and in that time indie rock has had an on-again/off-again relationship with synthetic instruments and their beautiful limitations. The Zeitgeist-forming power of the Postal Service signaled a sea change for younger bands and spawned no shortage of glitchy, stutter-step drum-machine beats and arcade-bred blip and beeps, but a few artists use that distinct and limited palette beyond mere set dressing. Kristin Dennis is the force behind Née, a one-woman electronic dance band that mixes lyrical themes of melancholy and malaise with sprightly, ping-ponging arrangements. Née's first release, the five-song The Hands of Thieves EP, plants its feet with pulsing electro-light grooves and varied, impassioned vocal performances.
On Thieves, it's striking how Dennis' words and cadences mesh with the punchy beats and whirring oscillators coming from her machines. This isn't a singer-songwriter project projected atop some naïve laptop tinkering; the grid-like drum patterns and regimented synthesizer runs give Dennis just enough room to move around while providing a comfortable but immutable restraint. Opening track "Absolom" gives a good idea of what's to follow. Eight-bit arpeggios and clicky hi-hats flicker in the foreground while solemn organ chords give a church-like weight to the broken-heart wreckage of the lyrics. You may be drawn to Née's songs by the retro arrangements — or you may tire of the sameness of the songs — but Dennis' vocals give a needed weight to the fleeting hooks. She's an able and confident singer with a knack for ethereal self-harmonies that can momentarily quell the automatic clatter going on around her. Even when her songs are at their most dance-friendly, like the ready-for-the-floor "Take Me Out," Dennis never sacrifices the organic for the robotic.
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