The Hands of Thieves EP

The Hands of Thieves EP

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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