Io Echo

Ministry of Love

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Purveying moody, Asian-tinged synth pop described as "New Orientalism," Io Echo's debut album Ministry of Love purports to draw from '90s industrial and George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece 1984, along with the duo's fondness for kotos, Chinese violins, and kimonos. Often, however, Ministry of Love's mix of lilting, Asian-sounding melodies and Ioanna Gika's strong vocals suggests dreamy, slow-mo variations on Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden," especially on the opening track "Shanghai Girls." Elsewhere, Zola Jesus' doomy spaciousness ("Stalemate") and Grimes' fusion of East Asian and goth elements ("Draglove") pop up as touchstones. All of which is to say that while Io Echo's music isn't as unique as it's been made out to be, it's often quite pretty, particularly when they focus on well-written songs instead of their flashier talking points. The album's title track delivers enough sleek heartbreak to be the theme song to a star-crossed romance set far in the future (and the darkly glamorous "Forget Me Not" could play as the credits roll), while "Outsiders" packs a surprising amount of hooks into such a delicate song. Io Echo's '90s fixation often expresses itself as trip-hop throwbacks, some of which, like the aptly named "Ecstacy Ghost," work well, and others, like the also aptly named "Berlin, It's All a Mess," don't. Even when their experiments don't quite come off, Io Echo does play with some interesting musical ideas, as on "Addicted," where pixelated synths and kotos rub elbows. Throughout Ministry of Love, Gika and Leopold Ross try on lots of sounds and moods for size; not all of them fit, but enough do to make this a promising debut -- and to suggest that they don't need to rely on gimmicks.

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