It’s November 2014 in Seattle and the Sound of the Moment comes from the electro-pop duo. As we speak, more than a half-dozen of these stripped-down, digitally enhanced outfits are making music. Usually they function as one singer-person and one producer-person, often (but not always) a female singer and a male producer. Sometimes live instruments are involved, almost certainly a laptop running Ableton. Each branches out from hip-hop or house/downtempo beat construction and strives for tight, catchy tunes.
Who are we talking about? Navvi, Rolodex, Crater, Sisters, Fly Moon Royalty, Purple Crush, Ever So Android, Made in Heights. To name a few.
And, to name one more, Murder Vibes. The two-dude duo arrives this month seemingly out of nowhere and immediately stands out from their peers.
Now that hardcore computing power is financially feasible to anyone with a day job, electronic music has become punk-rock-ish in its low bar for entry. All you need is a second-hand laptop and some pirated software to make noise—and maybe sound halfway professional. Photoshop skills help too, to craft an image to go along with musical output. Maybe that’s why a lot of music in this milieu feels half-baked. Energy and ambiance are easy to convey but, now and forever, good songs require craft.
Murder Vibes might be the apotheosis of Seattle’s electro-pop-duo trend: Their eponymous, self-released debut is ambitious but intimate; dark, smoky and sinister but invested in a broad emotional palette; bedrocked on shifty electronic beats by Jordan Evans but dependent on refined songwriting and virtuosic vocals via singer/guitarist Peter Hanks.
Murder Vibes feels genuinely, lovingly handmade. Hanks’ versatile voice alters mood and meaning with acrobatic upswells in register and tone. On some songs it soars with Antony Hegarty-esque exaltation (“Not Alone Tonight”); on others it smolders like the National’s Matt Berninger (“Silly Life”). It spans the entire range in album opener “Come for Me,” motivating the song from weary abstract musing to dance floor overdrive over six minutes and 40 seconds.
Evans counters Hanks’ formidable vocals with glossy production that’s both airtight and wide-open. His touchstones are brooding, danceable ’80s bands like Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and the Church, but he leaves room for Hanks’ guitar to unwind on some tracks, adding shades of blues-inflected rock attitude. “Dead Girl” (ugh, that title) is an update on Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” all self-loathing and languid sexual longing. “Mode” and “Tired” are the slowest on the record, barely there in sonic weight but portentous in emotional impact.
“I wanna drown in an ocean of you,” Hanks wails on “Wicked Girl,” a late-album highlight. Detailed, dramatic and monumental, the song lives up to the full potential of this emerging electro-duo format. At its best—as in the hands of Murder Vibes—this music is simultaneously classic and current. Or in other words, timeless.