Hard Dream

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Though he restricts himself to a palette of retro-sounding synths and straitlaced, reasonably dancefloor-friendly drum programming, never straying too far from the distinctive (if hardly earth-shattering) instrumental techno-pop vibe he's made his signature, Copy (alias Portland beatmaker Marius Libman) still covers considerable ground, emotionally, and stylistically. Hard Dream, Copy's third full-length, is titled after and loosely conceived as a score for an unrealized horror movie concept -- for a flick about mysteriously televised nightmares -- and, fittingly, it has its share of dark, moody, and menacing passages. But it's got plenty of pep and sweetness too, thanks to Libman's unrepentant tunefulness and full-color approach to composition; his synthesizers, which often manage to sound gleaming and gritty at the same time, are just as likely to sparkle and soar as to burble and brood. At the album's frequent best, he's often got multiple synthetic strands of melody going at once, layered into a dense, satisfying analog stew, as on the eight-minute opener "One Less Time" -- a slow-building, slow-motion disco epic which might not quite live up to its Daft Punk-baiting title, but still finds some frothy, intoxicating territory to explore -- or the sunnier, rather ornate "Breakfast." Copy also does well in sparser settings -- "Real Scared," juxtaposing music box arpeggios and archly Baroque synth leads against a spare, swaggering, hip-hop beat -- is a clear standout (and one of a few tracks to blatantly recall sometime-confederates Ratatat), while "Stay Away from It"'s herky-jerky, 8-bit bleep-thrash closes the album on a particularly fun, frenetically chirpy note. Only a few tracks are functionally devoid of melody, and they're the weakest links here: the murky, fairly generic dubstep foray "I Didn't Know" and the jittery, Kraftwerk-ian autopilot chase scene music of "It Could Have Been More" make for fine-enough mood shifters in the context of the album, but mostly they seem like rote genre exercises whose failings can be summed up by the latter's title. Generally, though, Libman's compositional gifts don't steer him wrong, and Hard Dream is much more nuanced and engagingly listenable than its stylistic trappings initially suggest. Deliberately or not, Copy's music tends to come off as primarily party fodder, well-crafted but essentially superficial, trading heavily on novelty and kitschy '80s nostalgia, but it's equally possible to see it in the tradition of thoughtful, palatable electronic "listening music," of the sort once peddled by ยต-ziq and Plaid, and lately revived by Copy's West coast peers like Eliot Lipp and Nosaj Thing.

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