Pulseprogramming – Charade Is Gold

Pulseprogramming - Charade Is Gold

Though Marc Hellner and his Pulseprogramming art collective have been in operation for more than a decade, it’s damn near impossible to listen to their new album without at least conjecturing its place in the fledgling chillwave movement of 2010.  Acts like Toro y Moi and Washed Out are among the most recognizable names in the unsubstantiated genre, but Pulseprogramming’s Charade Is Gold has more than its fair share of ice cave vocals, appended electronic percussion, and lustrous synthesizers to warrant it for consideration in the bin of what critic Jon Pareles called “recession-era music.”

If that’s where the comparisons stopped, Pulseprogramming’s chillwave ties would be nebulous at best, but the group’s backstory is rife with aesthetic decisions that predate the rapturous and dreamy qualities at the style’s core – ventures into IDM, shoegaze, and ambient electronica are all palpable in the scant yet impressive discography that the band has culled since its self-titled debut dropped back in 1999.  There’s bound to be a Kraftwerk or Brian Eno influence in there somewhere, but on Charade Is Gold, all signs point to the synthpop of 1980’s titans like Yaz, Depeche Mode, and New Order.  This isn’t quite “Blue Monday” or “I Just Can’t Get Enough,” however; those songs tended toward fairly direct histrionics, crisp in their production and unabashed in their simplicity.  Pulseprogramming, by contrast, treats nearly all of the nine songs on its latest LP with liberal doses of delay and reverb, forging a gauzy middle ground where atmosphere becomes paramount.

If there’s one direct link to the sounds of the early 80’s here, it’s undoubtedly Marc Hellner’s vocals.  While understated and indistinguishable in all of the ways that chillwave often exhibits, his timbre possesses a robust darkness similar to that of Dave Gahan or Ian Curtis.  This is particularly true of opening cut “Perfect Problematic,” where synth bass and willowy electronic drones encourage shimmering images of summertime.  Standout track “Snowmaps on Fire” is a similarly blissful affair, with somnolent keyboard melodies and stoned vocals.  Both tracks, though deliberately organized into discernible verses and choruses, trace an arc back to Pulseprogramming’s IDM roots when song structures were treated more abstractly.

Other notable songs include “Light Rides” and closer “See What They Live,” both of which take a minimalist approach that allows the relatively few elements involved to generate cavernous, sprawling textures.  The former is set to a rapid 3/4 waltz tempo, with a variety of echoing synth blips and cooing harmonies while Hellner hypnotically chants, “And the rain falls into dust.”  The latter employs a slinky disco beat and the vocals of female collaborator Chanel Pease, a woman whose pacifying voice pushes these already celestial tunes toward the sublime.

Charade Is Gold’s other tracks are just as inviting and lushly arranged.  “You Mean by Magic” flaunts twinkling synth arpeggios, a chaconne-like harmonic repetition, and vocals from both Pease and Hellner.  “So Right Words Strike Me” seems to at first reside in the same glitchy territory as trance artist Gold Panda, utilizing a number of stop/start rhythms and beats that eventually coalesce into a satisfying midtempo groove.

If the latest offering from Pulseprogramming has a flaw – albeit a minor one – it’s the lack of variance to be found from song to song.  Cuts like “Island Answer Anywhere” and Midnight Boom” are every bit as mesmerizing as the rest of Hellner’s work, but they fail to create any sort of challenge for the listener.  Soporific washes of ambience are good for five minute intervals, but indulging them for more than a half hour can render one comatose.  Yet while Charade Is Gold is not a work of startling originality or exacting requirements, it’s an ideal candidate for your soundtrack to the hazy days of summer.