80s production married to 19th Century poetic influences, simultaneously disengaged and deeply personal, the immediacy of its melodies obscuring ornate arrangements, Ice Choir’s debut album “Afar” revels in the multiple contradictions it presents to listeners. This is a record that sounds like it was tracked thirty years ago in a $5,000-aday studio: all sheen, synths, compressed guitars and digitally revived vocals yet is as bedroom-and-laptop as any; written and produced on the road and out of suitcases over the past 12 months by Kurt Feldman (and later brought to life via MIDI and an extensive collection of outmoded vintage synthesizers). Indeed, part of its genius is this unyielding commitment to subverting expectations. Rather than engaging in crude revivalism, “Afar” challenges conventional perceptions of 80s technopop, highlighting its musically progressive and literate roots and re-imagining them to create a startlingly original sound. This makes for an unconventionally diverse album that dips into the palettes of Italo-disco, avant-garde pop, classical music and even smooth R&B while somehow remaining completely, utterly, coherent. Feldman jokes that he originally tried to make something that sounded “equal parts Flyte Tyme, flight school (via SNES Pilotwings) and luck dragon in flight.” Notwithstanding the meticulous detail to composition and arrangement throughout “Afar”, perhaps it is the substance and quality of lyrics, and their centrality to its appreciation, which will distinguish it most from its contemporaries. This is writ large in Feldman’s nod to John Keats’ Fancy on the album closer “Everything Is Spoilt By Use” (a glittering, tinsel-clad ballad that features a sublime cameo from Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek).
“Afar” is 35 minutes of the most considered pop music out there; a compelling ode to lust, distance and alienation â€¦