SOUVENIR by POP ETC
Favorite Tracks: “Vice,” “I Wanted To Change The World But The World Changed Me,” “What Am I Becoming?,” “I’m Only Dreaming”
In 2012, The Morning Benders officially announced their change of name from their dreamy and effervescent moniker to the glittering yet dismissive POP ETC. Since then, gone are the days of the indie rock and new wave sensibilities fans once knew. What had been born anew was a band who traded in their car-key-jangle hi-hats and So-Cal 60s pop tunes for a couple polyphonic synthesizers, more powerful guitar amps, and just a touch of Vocoder. Both personas are equally respectable and still retain a niche for catchy melodies and romantically straightforward lyrics.
On the cover of POP ETC’s sophomore album, SOUVENIR, a cloudy gray sky and dramatically blowing palm trees frame what looks like a beachside resort in Miami, informing us of the tumultuous and lyrically emotional storm that brews throughout the album, despite an otherwise fun, spring break getaway of 1980s synthpop instrumentation. The opening track, “Please, Don’t Forget Me,” doesn’t appear to be as tempestuous as the cover art on first listen, but nonetheless lyrically foreshadows the turmoil to come. It should be said that as Chris Chu sings “It isn’t hard to understand / Why we can’t hold on to what we had / Oh, but please, don’t forget me,” the symbolism of a souvenir becomes known – an artifact from the past which we hold on to as a reminder of that which once was; a relic that no longer represents the current context. But amidst Chu’s ruminations, we quickly realize that attachment to people, lost love, and the past does not keep the Earth from spinning.
Consistency of theme makes SOUVENIR pleasantly cohesive. However, the lack of thematic deviation is equally reciprocated by the lack of diversity in song structure. While, in general, each of the ten songs can keep you dancing in your shoulder pads and Lycra miniskirt, the album disappoints in overarching narrative structure, as well as amidst individual songs. The verse-chorus structure becomes predictable, even in spite of “I Wanted To Change The World But The World Changed Me,” “Backwards World,” and “I’m Only Dreaming” breaking up the monotony of pacing as the only near-ballads we hear.
Heavy-hearted lyrics are unfailingly gilded by SOUVENIR’s distinct 1980s pop sound. SOUVENIR is dominated by Miami Vice electric guitars and synths, and the reliable clap of a punchy drum beat. This is especially so on tracks like “Vice,” “Running in Circles,” “Your Heart Is a Weapon,” “Beating My Head Against the Wall,” and “Bad Break.”
While SOUVENIR is as nostalgic as your mom’s favorite 80s mixtape, it fails to bring anything new to the table, which isn’t inherently good or bad – it just is. Its repetition might make it a less inspiring album had it not been in the style of one of the most favored musical decades of all time. SOUVENIR’s simplistic narrative leaves something to be desired. However, at the very middle of the album, “What Am I Becoming?” leads us through the most genuine angst heard out of the entire work and is likewise the climax of a man comprehending just how tightly he’s been caged into his desire to hold onto the past. By the album closer, “I’m Only Dreaming,” we hear Judd Nelson pumping his fist to the sky à la John Bender in The Breakfast Club as our protagonist triumphantly and lucidly realizes that “There’s a new world waiting for me on the other side.” The clouds part just enough to let a ray of sunlight shine down and remind us that the only direction to keep moving is forward; the light-weighted simplicity of this progress may just be enough to make you rewind the tape back one more time.