Yesterday Was Lived and Lost is the debut effort from New Build, a trio made up of multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle, synth-maestro Felix Martin, and studio engineer Tom Hopkins. Following in the footsteps of their fellow Hot Chip band members, Doyle and Martin have formed a side-project in order to tackle a new aesthetic (Joe Goddard did it with The 2 Bears and Alexis Taylor with About Group). Instead of trying to move aggressively forward, as Hot Chip tends to do, New Build is a revival of the unabashedly playful, artfully crafted pop music that thrived some four decades ago. The lyrics recall David Byrne in their wry sarcasm. The synths are shimmering and expertly engineered, not unlike Bowie or Phil Collins. It is a synth-pop record that is easy to enjoy but was clearly not easy to create.
“Introduction” is a patchwork of synths that is a harbinger of the intricate layering to come. It’s a hypnotic opening that segues seamlessly into “Medication”, the first of many groovy numbers built around a pitch-perfect bass line. Al Doyle belts out the first lyrics of the album: “when your all alone/ and your feeling terrified/ try some medication”. This sly juxtaposition is found throughout the album, as troublesome lyrics are sung with gusto over bright and bouncy instrumentation. This tension makes Yesterday a rewarding repeat listen. That it’s a fun album is readily apparent, but the emotional subject matter and dark imagery is worked in more subtly. On “Behind The Shutter” Doyle sings that he is “walking through the marble halls/ to escape the heavy midnight air”. A marble hall evokes a large amount of cold, empty space (Bertolucci used the image to reinforce the tenants of Fascism). Further, one gets the sense that the singer is oppressed, as the “heavy” air bears down on him. The song goes on to discuss heartbreak and the difficulties of seeing clearly other peoples feelings. All this is set to cascading synths and an electro-house drum break.
Complex pop music has almost become an oxymoron, this album is a much needed reminder of what it can sound like.
Yesterday‘s songs are peppered with unique and alluring interjections. Planningtorock’s Janine Rostron, who first shows up on “Medication”, pops up throughout to lend sultry vocal backing. “Schism of the Mind” opens with various bleeps bouncing off of one another before the main melody is etched out by a warbling synth that is futuristic and comforting all at once. Slight horn jabs are brought into “The Third One” to round out the sound. “Misery Loves Company” is elevated to Talking Heads status as the last minute abandons the tight verse/chorus dichotomy of the rest of the album and spirals into a bonafied jam session. These well choreographed tangents are a welcome addition to the otherwise concise and polished arrangements.
Considering complex pop music has almost become an oxymoron, this album is a much needed reminder of what it can sound like. It is at times gaudy, maybe even over the top, but it is always technically impressive and passionately constructed. New Build lacks some of Hot Chips transcendent moments; but comparing this project to Hot Chip is beside the point. Doyle, Martin, and Hopkins went for something enjoyable in and of itself. I imagine they sat down together and waxed poetic about the days when pop icons were devoted musicians. Then they put on a Peter Gabriel record, looked at one another knowingly, and got to work.
Stream ‘Yesterday Was Lived and Lost’ in its entirety here.