Hefner – Dead Media

Dead Media

Ok, so here are the basics. Hefner are Brits, they like irony, they dig the Talking Heads, and they are completely obsessed with analog synthesizers. With this behind us, we can then attempt to explore Dead Media, a surprisingly confusing record. See, this band obviously has talent. Tons of talent, actually, but unlike the superheroes (is that Daredevil on the cover?) that appear in the artwork, Hefner doesn’t always choose the path of good. And when you’re aiming for quality pop, that can be a problem.
The title track opens with simple dueling analog keys so reminiscent of Kraftwerk I can hear the lawyers stretching their mouth muscles already. Soothing Brit-pop vocals slide on top, giving the track some swing. The drums are stripped down to the extreme, providing the frailest of spines but doing the job. Excellent layering of electronic tones carries the song, suddenly dropping away to just the vocals. “Trouble Kid” features a distorted guitar riff that sounds like something Bon Jovi might write. However, the addition of mechanical drum beats and bubbling synths is more along the lines of that scary trend of combining 80s guitar and corny dance beats that appeared in the later 90’s (Anyone else remember “Ready to Go”?). Still, it’s hard to deny the whole package as a pop blast. The vocoder vocals that appear in a late break sound exactly like Kraftwerk…
At this point the guitars go into hibernation and the drums hit an IQ of 2. Take, for example, “When the Angles Play Their Drum Machines.” I really enjoy the walking tempo with its grooving bass and vintage electronics. That said, the 3:45 song will drive you insane because it relies on the all-too-obnoxious four on the floor beat that makes Euro-disco so unmistakable. Really, I quite enjoy everything else, but the drums make my brain hurt. Sadly, this trend continues. “Alan Bean” has great vocals, ear-twisting slide guitar, and various other well-placed noises, but the beat just sucks the life from the song. It is insulting to the listener’s intelligence, and perhaps worse, to the band’s abilities. Just a little more effort and these tracks could really work, but poor programming eliminates replay value with amazing speed. “Peppermint Taste” adds handclaps and tom rolls to keep it from falling into the same trap, thus refocusing attention to the innovative instrumentation. This is Hefner at its best.
“The King of Summer” has some seriously upfront slide guitar. The drums aren’t awful, though they still sound like the default setting on a store bought keyboard. Start-stop dynamics distinguish the track from the more “groove-oriented” material around it. The second half of the song almost directly steals the bass line from the Talking Head’s “Swamp” but then explodes into a quite impressive pop chorus. This pattern continues throughout the record, sometimes working, sometimes not. My advice: Listen to Dead Media before you buy. That way you’ll know if things like boring drums kill the otherwise impressive pop.