Just at the moment I’m despairing about the state of radio and ready to burn my CD player and jab my radio with a heated pitchfork due to the woeful state of mainstream music, independent music comes along to save the day. This week, it was IL electronic pop group Scenic Square who reminded me with their charming DIY ethic and undeniable talent that truly compelling and creative music can still be find underground. Scenic Square has just released a 5 song EP, Opportunity that strikes the listener as being a fresh effort, despite its forays into the familiar territory of moody electro-pop. On their press release, Scenic Square lists bands like New Order, Radiohead, Mum, Boards of Canada, and Ester Drang as influences, and the band does not veer too far from the kind of aural soundscapes that these bands have established. That’s not to say, though, that Opportunity lacks in quality. The disc is not only a prelude of the high quality of music that Scenic Square can create if given the appropriate resources and attention, but it also stands on its own as a very enjoyable, and even sleek, collection of songs.
Opportunity opens with “Where Is The Power?”, a semi-ambient noodling with keyboard sounds floating around the voice of a French instructor conjugating various French verbs. The track quickly ends, but not before establishing a slightly dreamy mood and preparing the listener to swoon over the luscious sounds to follow. The title track sounds next, beginning with nicely executed electronics sparkling over a simple beat. The song instantly becomes something special, though, when vocalist Jason Roberts croons, “I saw the light on your face turn so bright” in a slight falsetto voice reminiscent of Bryce Chambers (Ester Drang), or a Wayne Everett (Lassie Foundation). Not only does Roberts’s humble, expressive, and sincere voice shine on “Opportunity”, but the song’s melody is so strong and sweet (while sad), that the listener can’t help but be drawn immediately into the song. “Opportunity” (as all of the actual songs on Opportunity) threatens to erupt into a danceable techno-fest, but the band is able to resist this temptation, eschewing it for a dreamier approach, complete with delayed guitars and ambient underpinnings. “Antagonist” follows in much of the same vein, utilizing only a minimalist beat to give direction to the wandering guitar, morose melody, and layers of electronic accents. The guitars on this song, especially, bring out the dreampop/ambient side of the band, as the song implodes on the sounds of guitars wailing in the distance. On “Cowboy”, the electronic beat, though light, takes more of a centre stage, as its slight groove drives the song forward. Featuring yet another irresistible melody, a dark mood, samples, and a host of strange and unnerving sounds, “Cowboy” is a study in glum electronic pop, though infused with a heart of shoegaze. Opportunity winds up with “You Woke Me Upp”, the longest song on the EP at almost 6 minutes. The song combines eerie electronics with droning guitars and keys, as well as Roberts’ earnest vocals. Building slowly to a dense yet not overpowering instrumental postlude of lingering guitars and keyboards over minimalist beats, “You Woke Me Upp” finally shuts down in a haze of static and subtle vocal samples.
With its sombre mood, Opportunity sounds like it was recorded in dark basements and cold rooms, which, apparently, is exactly the locale the band gives for their home-made release. And, despite (or because of) the fact that the band wrote and recorded all of Opportunity by themselves, even to the point of stamping the CD cases with their very own hands, this EP sparkles with its extremely well-written melodies and interesting sonics. The elusive pop melody, whether cheery or dark, as in the case of Scenic Square, is extremely difficult to happen upon by songwriters. Yet, Scenic Square is able to find these melodies 4 times, coating them with tasteful electro-shoegaze sensibilities and introducing them with an experimental flair. A very solid collection of interesting and engaging songs. There is hope for music after all…For fans of The Postal Service, and any of the other bands mentioned above.