Styrofoam

A Thousand Words

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From the introductory sweep of sweet synths that brightens "After Sunset," A Thousand Words' opening track, it's clear Styrofoam has made a dramatic break with the past. Brushing aside the dark atmospheric clouds and downtempo rhythms that previously infested his sound, Arne Van Petegem has created an album that is surprisingly bright and upbeat. The warm "Sunset" pushes toward pop, while the bubbly "Bright Red Helmet" bounces straight into it with obvious delight. Bright melodies predominate, invariably enhanced by rich, new romantic-ish synths, while the tempos are notably upbeat. There are a couple of more pensive numbers, but even they are only lightly shadowed. Van Petegem handles the bulk of the vocals, and does so with aplomb, another change from the past. Here his singing is pulled to the front of the mix, and bolstered by his own multi-layered harmonies to rich effect -- which means that when guest singers do appear, it's mostly in lovely duet, with the strong pairings including Blake Hazard, Erica Driscoll, and old cohort Jim Adkins. Josh Rouse shines on "Lil White Boy." But for all the signs of new confidence found, Van Petegem still doesn't quite trust his vocals and melodies enough to showcase them on their own. Too often he fills the pieces with just too much electronics, almost annoyingly so on the title track, with the sheer busyness of the songs subtracting from the strength of the melodies and the power of the vocals. So close, but not quite there yet, the artist manages to sabotage himself. Even so, this is Styrofoam's most satisfying set to date, and with a bit more faith in himself, his next one should be unbeatable.

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