Little Cub

Still Life

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A moody, deeply yearning work of unadulterated retro-style synth pop, the debut album from Britain's Little Cub, 2017's Still Life, remains remarkably fresh, even if it mainly sounds like a lost gem from the 1980s. '80s synth pop has been a touchstone throughout much of the indie-electronic movement of the mid-2000s, with artists like M83, Washed Out, and Hot Chip borrowing the cool digital fuzz of bands like Tears for Fears, Erasure, and the Human League. However, few bands have borrowed so thoroughly as Little Cub do on their debut album, 2017's Still Life. Hailing from South-East London, Little Cub is a trio featuring lead vocalist Dominic Gore, keyboardist Duncan Tootill, and keyboardist Ady Acolatse. Together they craft a gauzy framework of vintage-sounding keyboards and drum machines, all of which surround Gore's yearning, resonant croon. In fact, with Gore at the center of their sanguine keyboard arrangements, Little Cub often evince the more downtempo end of the Pet Shop Boys output. However, while their similarly inclined contemporaries tend to bring out the dancey side of '80s synth-based pop, Little Cub are much more in line with bands like the Cure and the Smiths, creating literate anthems of exuberant melancholy. While Little Cub's core approach is to recapture a bygone sound, there's a modern sophistication and production sheen to the album that speaks to their wit and savvy self-awareness. Catchy and beat-oriented as they are, cuts like "My Nature," "Hypnotise," and "Mulberry" remain introverted in attitude -- dance music for wall flowers -- and fit in nicely next to more prog-influenced acts like Field Music. In that sense, although one assumes that much of the music on Still Life was programmed, many of the tracks, like "Too Much Love" and the kinetic "Breathing Space," appear to feature real bass, minor guitar flourishes, and at least some real, woody drums via studio addition Nathaniel Butler. Ultimately, with Still Life, Little Cub have managed to capture the '80s synth moment, bringing it to life with tactile, analog lyricism.

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