Roman à Clef

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Abandonware Review

by Marcy Donelson

A side project of Ryan Newmyer and Jen Goma, bassist and singer of dream pop combo A Sunny Day in Glasgow, and multi-instrumentalist/producer Kurt Feldman of Ice Choir, formerly of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the sound of Roman à Clef's debut, Abandonware, isn't surprising except in its uncanny resemblance to '80s/'90s Prefab Sprout. From the soft, floating female falsetto to the jazzy, extended chord progressions to the distinctive guitar/keyboard sound palettes with echoing melodic lines, it's all on point. In the contemporary realm, it's less hazy than typical A Sunny Day in Glasgow, but still shimmering in light dream poppiness, and just as adept as all the members' accomplished prior projects. Bookended by editions of the wistful title track, the record is never quite not wistful. Goma's ethereal, reverbed vocals (often in conversation with Newmyer's matter of fact baritone), sustained guitar and synth chords, shifting modes and keys, and that particular Sprout-evoking soundscape keep things vaguely melancholy even on the brightest uptempo songs, such as "PSBTV." Moreover, the album's lyrics are reflections on life's obstacles and complexity, befitting the longing feeling expressed by the extended chords at play: "Over your shoulder/At a world getting older/What can we bring?/We still haven't learned a thing." The appearance of Abandonware in 2015 might be less awkward if Paddy McAloon weren't still actively releasing Prefab Sprout records at the same time (Crimson/Red was out in 2014), but the album's earnestness, ambitious arrangements, and the elaborate songcraft on display make it worth its mettle. "The kind of books you always liked/Have just gone out of style/And the kind of music that you make/Has caught on for a while."

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