REVIEW: Mercybox - "Songs from the Box"

By Christopher Eissing

Chain Border

The 70's are dead, long live the 80's. Too many trendy music reviewers, the ones that crapped all over disco the minute glam metal hit in the early 80s, have been too long clinging to 70's trendy retro lust. The 70's sucked. The long vapid dance rhythms of disco echoed in droning monotonous techno rhythms of the 90s, the touchy feely chick-centric vocal masturbations of the 70s mirrored in the little-substance female singer songwriters of the Clinton decade. Just as in the 70's, the level of vapidness of pop music over the past 10 years was in direct relation to continually more revealing dress.

Mercybox brings back all the wonderful things musical of New Wave. Mixing dance rhythms with melodic arrangement, coupling musicianship with technical advances, combining an androgynous yet stylized sexy look with insightful and revealing lyrics. Mercybox has it down. Taking the techniques and technologies used over the past 10 years to create monotonous droning techno and trance dance rhythms and using them to create music based on the melodically structured, and vocally-driven, arrangements of New Wave.

Popping the CD in I didn't know what to expect. The first few seconds of Track 1, My Delilah, was deceiving, pointing to a typically techno album. A few more seconds and this melody wasn't looped endlessly over a bland drum track, but expanded into a key-board driven sound. Arranged with strong melodies and sub-melodies. Similar to gentle Curve offerings, My Delilah escapes the wall of noise approach that often muddies Curve's musicianship. The processed vocals are well-placed, the pace danceable, the fills so New Order you wonder if this is part of a dance medley.

Wrapped in Plastic opens with a beautifully wrought Depeche Mode-esque keyboard melody that slides to the background for the vocals. With a wonderfully done anti-punch chorus reminiscent of the Information Society's more delicate offerings. It sets a nice framework for dark and melancholy vocals that rely on message and gentle execution and not clichéd stylings to give them their goth edge. Angel in the Architecture has got to be the unclaimed child of a backstage tryst between New Order and Dead or Alive. A classic example of early 90s pre-grunge New Wave, similar to the late dance works of Love and Rockets. Red Room Bruising is a typical 80's underground synth-band ballad-based tune. Musically it is not dissimilar to Howard Jone's B-sides off albums like Human's Lib or One-to-One. The vocals are more reminiscent of Camoflage than Depeche Mode in their craftsmanship. This tune is familiar for its text-book 80s synth ballad sound.

Mercybox may easily be a standout in the coming 80s retro. Their sound is rooted in the early days of New Wave dance phrasing and songwriting. Songs from thre Box has a sound that is both new and familiar. It is text book 80s. It stands out against many of the 80s retro sounds out there, but still would be regarded as weak compared to the original works. The sounds are straight out of New Wave, but where these sounds were painfully wrought through Midi and Synth techniqes in the 80s, they are currently off-the-shelf modules that are readily available. It has been done before, and when it was it took a lot more effort. This does not detract from Songs from the Box. They have the songwriting down. They have the musicianship down. The recording and engineering quality is superb.

Delving into the tricks the old-schoolers used to tweak their DX-7s, TR-707s, and Juno-106s may let this band create innovations that 20 years from now will be definable enough to become an off-the-shelf module. I recommend Wendy Carlos' Lecture, Secrets of Synthesis - Its definitely dated, but it gives an understanding of the painstaking crafting of early analog sound synthesis.

Contact Information:
Post: Mercybox, P.O. Box 34035, Charlotte, NC, 28234, USA

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