It's not uncommon for a late-'90s band to take pleasure in the overdone synth reliance of the early '80s -- the key is that for this to sound good, it has to get past retro-kitschiness and actually use the sound seriously. The Clears manage to find a good combination of both -- the jerky, robotic synth work of their self-titled album doesn't come across as a trick or a gimmick, electing instead to approach some serious and darkly compelling moments. Most engaging is a dedication toward pop structures that puts the focus on the songwriting, rather than the group's wild synth constructions ("The Next Thing"), and the gleefully serious way the Clears romp through these forms puts the icy textures of their keyboards very much to their advantage. The resulting album is fairly brilliant, in several different ways: anyone who remembers driving, key-heavy tracks like Men Without Hats' "Antarctica" (or Devo in general) may get nostalgic; on the other end, anyone who's enjoyed the more experimental synth resurrections of groups like Long Hind Legs may appreciate hearing a pop side to this sound.
by Nitsuh Abebe