Stylex – Tight Scrapes

Stylex
Tight Scrapes

Here comes another 80s throwback. In the case of Stylex, you can tell just from looking at the cover of Tight Scrapes that these guys are serious about their 80s reconstruction. Based on the CD artwork, front and back, you might mistake this for something you’d see in the $1 bin at your local used-CD store.

The music follows from the CD packaging. It’s pretty faithful to its forerunners: part Devo, part Sparks, and maybe a little Polyrock. Its synths, its mix of electronic beats and acoustic drums, its staccato vocals, its angst: this album is a time warp unto itself. Was this album resurrected from a time capsule somewhere?

Tight Scrapes might sound derivative if it were to have come out 20 years ago, but because there’s a good bit of distance between this CD and its musical forefathers, it actually sounds pretty fresh. If you had ever wished that The Units had put out more material, you just might get something out of Stylex’s approximations. And it’s apparent that the band doesn’t it take itself too seriously, if that helps.

Many of the songs follow a certain formula. They sound like they’re being performed by an amphetamine-addled crew of edgy hipsters. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your disposition towards having your nerves rattled. “Thanks to Meet You,” to take one example, zips along with a Casio beat and an Interpol guitar line (let’s not forget where Interpol learned its chops), topped with nervous vocals repeating “Thanks to meet you” at the end of the verses. “Tell me if you think of a better way to die / Too many things to love / There’s no time to cry” comes off like something from a high-school poetry reading, but it does fit the music, oddly enough. “Doppelganger” echoes the death theme, with “Some truths will never be / Unless you die and then I’ll see.” Mortality never sounded so innocuous. “Doppelganger” does end with some cool effects; its postlogue has some metallic echoes and manufactured tones a la recent Ex-Models. It would have been cool for the band do have done a little more experimentation, because when it does play around a little (as on the end of “Escaper,” as well) it provides a nice counterpoint to the rigidity of the sound.

“Hide and Sneak” does expand the approach a little, having its beats drop in and out. Its guitar melodies sometimes veer into a little bit of atonality, even if the synth chords and bass lines keep the song on track otherwise. “Fornever” does a similar thing, which shows that the band has picked up a trick or two from albums that came out after Are We Not Men. “Moves,” the introductory track, has the modern sound of the songs on the album, but that’s only because it dispenses with the synths and features real drums. Its flavor is more Forward, Russia! than Berlin.

This modern artifact probably doesn’t overcome its influences enough to distinguish itself, but you have to hand it to Stylex for absolutely nailing the look and feel of the mid-80s. Before I’d recommend Tight Scrapes, I’d recommend anything by Polyrock and The Units. That said, if you still like leg warmers and Members Only jackets, you’ll want to grab this one.