Synthpop duo Night Club have an appealing vibe. There’s the sex-positive, electropunk swagger of Peaches paired with a tone that is serious enough with which to be engaged, but not so serious as to be suffocated in some cantankerous dude’s hip Brooklyn walkup.
Their years-in-the-making debut LP, Requiem for Romance, is the epitome of that formula. Singer Emily Kavanaugh sings about being a bad girl, a freak, and often admonishes lovers to beware her fatal personality. And however much she evokes Britney’s purring chanteuse — albeit with more command — Kavanaugh never descends into Spears’ cynical, rhote take on sexual dynamics between parties. The Mark Brooks-helmed music is synthy, tight, raw, and minimal, and complements Kavanaugh’s pretty damn dark musings.
Kavanaugh and Brooks have said they’ve had a rough year, and anyone who is a fan of Comedy Central’s retro Nagelfest Moonbeam City knows what they are talking about. The duo did the music for the show, and watched as the show kicked off in a buzzworthy fashion before descending into cancellation.
Big-timers like Rob Lowe, Elizabeth Banks, Kate Mara, and Will Forte provided voices for the main characters in a show that combined the decadence of Miami Vice with the particular humor of a show like Archer. The show came after Kung Fury found an audience for well-represented 80s cheese, but that and the starpower weren’t enough to make it stick.
It doesn’t matter, though. They were part of a great thing that will always survive on streaming platforms and in the hearts of those who dug the show and Night Club’s great score for it.
What we have now is something divorced of an obligation to a particular plotline or project. This is just Kavanaugh and Brooks looking at each other — and within themselves — after a five-year ride that has seen them release three EPs and participate in a cult-favorite TV show and a slew of future projects that will keep them in front of you for years to come. In their observations, they tell us something about ourselves.
The 10-song, 31-minute LP (the perfect length, if you ask me) is tight, to the point, and is designed to rinse the listener of pretension as much as it is a catharsis for Kavanaugh and Brooks. Or, at least, it seems that way.
Every time I listen to it, I’m stripped a little of the bullshit layers I drape over myself to get through the day. Every listen brings me a bit closer to getting to the core of understanding how I relate to the world. And you know what? This is a great thing. Any time art can yank someone out of their own self-imposed, self-important ass is a great thing. Requiem succeeds beautifully in this way.
Album opener “Bad Girl,” a big cut you might remember from its single-release earlier this year or the music video, cuts through your skin with an aggressive array of cascading synths and tight rhythms that support Kavanaugh’s borderline angelic pipes. She’s no angel on this one, though. On this cut, she gets the subject addicted to her and perhaps not for the most honorable reasons. Or maybe they are? Maybe she and the subject have a pre-determined power dynamic that works for both of them? So she’s not bad, but she’s playing “bad.” We all do, from time to time and there’s nothing wrong with it.
“Magnetic” has massive, fuzzy synths that rip like metal riffs. There’s an obsessive relationship involved on this song, too, but this time Kavanaugh’s the addict. It’s a cut with a lot of truth. Whether or not they sat down and agreed to the terms of their dynamic, she and the subject are constantly negotiating who’s behind the wheel and who needs the other more. This is a fluidity we have in nearly all of our relationships — or the healthy ones, anyway.
A real standout cut on the record is “Psychosuperlover,” which is a contemplation on the ways in which relationships can be destructive when one person can’t get out of their own way with their exploitative ways. We’ve all been in some relationship like that, whether romantic or not. There’s the one person who puts in their due diligence to be a good friend or lover, and then there’s the other person whose only efficient fuel is the tattered soul of the other.
On “Requiem,” the pair kick off with a church organ and plodding synth-arps and a brooding choir sample, supported by imposing drums. Aside from Kavanaugh’s cherubic upper-register and wordless vocals, the cut evokes the foreboding of Depeche Mode’s “Pimpf” from 1987’s Music For The Masses.
The concept of a “requiem” is an interesting choice for this record. Requiems are music for something already dead, and this record certainly documents the crumbling and eventual death of something. But are Brooks and Kavanaugh trying to tell us something about themselves? About ourselves?
Their romance in real life seems so strong. They work and live life together with a force of creativity, vitality, and intimacy most couples could only dream of. So perhaps they’re making music for the death of Moonbeam City? Or of a previous chapter of their lives? The death of sex as romance or romance as sex? Or the wholesale obliteration of the ties that bind us all to each other on this mortal coil?
The record is posited as a requiem for “romance” and not “a romance” of any particular sort. So maybe all romantic qualities are left to the gutter in service to the brutally blatant realization that there’s something else binding us all together?
Some of you will have a chance to ask them this month and otherwise test the fallacy of my own thoughts. In support of the release of Requiem, Night Club is on a brief tour.
They’re playing The Grid in Mesa, Arizona, tonight. Here’s what follows:
Oct. 14 – 1010 Workshop – Denver
Oct. 21 – Trans Pecos – Brooklyn
Oct. 22 – QXT’s – Newark
Oct. 30 – Mayan Theater – LA
Nov. 10 – Cheer Up Charlies – Austin, Texas.
More details on their Facebook page under “Tour Dates.”
To buy or stream the record, released by Gato Blanco, you can find it on iTunes and at all of the other typical places. In other news, the band just finished composing the score for the upcoming feature film Nerdland (featuring Hannibal Buress, Paul Rudd, and Patton Oswald, among others).