Robots With Rayguns’ latest album, Fresh As It Gets, is a dance party at The Max from Saved By The Bell with Todd Edwards as a guest DJ and Technique-era New Order filling in during bathroom breaks, all with an EDM rinse.
One of RWR’s trademarks is to add to the synthwave/retrowave movement the vocal cut-ups that notable DJ and Daft Punk collaborator Edwards made popular as the pioneer of garage house/UK garage. RWR does that with full-force on this record, overlaying it on top of a hot pink and seafoam menagerie of synthpop and Ibizan house-infused songs that would be right at home in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s pretty easy to picture Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski falling in love or getting into some sort of trouble over songs like “One More Time,” “Summer Dreams” and “Get Over U.”
What makes Fresh so exciting is RWR’s dogma-less approach to the genre. He indisputably makes music that fits alongside contemporaries like Futurecop! and FM Attack, but the Phoenix-based artist infuses enough of his personality into these tracks to ensure that he occupies essentially his own territory.
It’s not just that he mixes the sounds of your favorite bands and Saturday morning cartoons from the 80s, but he features guests like Keith Masters, whose raps tap into the old-school hip-hop of pre-Hammer golden era. He also doesn’t shy away from invoking a little Italo-Disco and straight-up pop along the way.
A highlight is “One More Time.” It’s got a steady and solid 4/4 backbeat and a great riff generated by some fuzzy synthesizers in a riff that with some subtlety bows to Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F,” the theme from Beverly Hills Cop. It’s also catchy as hell and should probably be incorporated into some awesome synchronized dance route at the Union Square subway station in New York.
That’s followed by “Summer Dreams,” the old-school hip-hop cut with Masters, which is clearly a companion piece to “One More Time.” Both songs are a profoundly strong start to the record.
Another brilliant cut is “Get Over U,” featuring the beautiful, sparingly cut-up vocals of She’s The Queen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Queen soon overtakes Kristine as the de facto go-to for vox for synthwavers. Hers is an angelic and raw power. (No offense to Kristine, who will certainly ensure that she remains the one true queen for some time.) Match that with triumphant synthesizers and shuffled drums and it’s a crime this isn’t in the Top Ten on the iTunes charts.
The mid-tempo ballad feels a bit like being in a sea-saw relationship with so many high-low extremes that go bust and leave you standing alone, wondering, like the title suggests, if you’ll ever be able to, or if you even want to, move on.
Other cuts like “Electric Love” and “Right Through Me,” featuring Patrick Baker, are equal in the sense of excitement and wonder they instill in the listener. “Right,” an especially gorgeous slow-burner, is a great closer to the album.
I found RWR’s album to be one I’d want to listen to repeatedly, especially the songs I’ve put in the spotlight. My only gripe is that the 15-song, 55-minute record could have been trimmed by a couple tracks to make it a bit tighter and more consistent: “Touch” and “Freestylin’” could have been set aside for bonus cuts or b-sides.
Ultimately, though, I hope RWR keeps tapping into that creative spirit that makes him a standout artist in a genre already crowded with them.
(Photo: Robots With Rayguns.)