There’d be no other way to really ever understand music unless one would experience it firsthand. Ghostland Observatory was the kind of group that presented something uniquely overdone: solid dance music that is both poppy and electronic enough to interest people. The last song (“Kick Clap Speaker”) off their latest album, Codename: Rondo, features the album’s absolute best moments; unfortunately, the preceding nine songs leave so much to be desired that you’d be lucky to make it so far. Seeing them last year to close out Saturday at the Austin City Limits Festival was a fantastic experience and they took to the audience with an electric magnetism. The experience in their music seemed worthwhile and although Codename: Rondo features a few flashing highs, there’s nothing anywhere close to what they’re capable of on here.
In wanting to be someone dynamic and stellar, the electronic tandem has opted for herky-jerky knee-twisters that seem better left alone. “Miracles” is a cliché-filled mash of radio-friendly synths and an angular guitar riff that’s reminiscent of the Edge’s aggressive style. Ghostland Observatory decorates the bridge with a few strings but other than that, it’s nothing more than a calculated attempt at pop greatness that startlingly, falls flat. Although the words don’t always need to be the most affectionately sweet, “Body Shop” is a poorly presented metaphor for what one would do with/to a nice body: “wax it, grind it, work it, and ride it…lover.” It sounds well enough but when filtered through a strange laboratory creation, it just doesn’t make sense.
There are various songs that just seem to be confusingly adorned. The stale stomp of “Time” certainly reflects the repetitive monotony that a clock can possess; sadly the words are even more confusing, “Time don’t need no royal lines,” the music seems to be slowly dwindling with, well, time. And the robotic overdrive of “That’s Right” is nothing more than a lost number that maybe should’ve been left on the cutting-room floor. While the album’s theme presents a futuristic one, some of the elements seem outdated and inconveniently introduced because of it. The Austin-bred duo was capable of roaring highs but on Codename: Rondo everything seems to feel much lower than expected.
Listening back to the opening melody of “Sad Sad City” and how Aaron Kyle Behrens’ voice sounded that much stronger, how the music sounded that much stronger and how everything came together, that much stronger – 2006 seems like such a long time ago. Paired with the memorable “Stranger Lover,” they are two of the best electronic songs of the past decade and proudly, some of the safest music for anyone else to enjoy. Ghostland Observatory were never about needing to be different or even original for that matter and still, they’re skill was never in question. Codename: Rondo showcases a softer sounding group and it’s one that sounds neither confident, nor too amusing. Even the affecting “Mama” – heavy with 80s-style George Michael influence – tries to combat the weariness with atmospheric experimentation. But for much of the time, the album falls flat of expectations and it leaves many questions unanswered.