Joy Electric

Hello, Mannequin

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Give Ronnie Martin a cigar: the kid takes his keyboards to heart. Taking a jagged left from the clickety twee of Tick Tock Treasury, Martin turns in Hello, Mannequin, a chilly neon record ripped entirely on a Roland System 100 analog synth rig. It's a move in dedication to what that sound did before, and Martin's songwriting reflects those influences predictably. Depeche Mode's early decadence is a touchstone here, as are the breezy robot tones of types like Jean Michel Jarre. Mannequin is also the third volume in Martin's Legacy series, his ambitious effort to weave the wonderfulness of Jesus Christ into synth pop's mechanistic lovecheese. Or something like that. "Swept away from life/Awakened to each day/With the sense that no here will stay," he chatters in "Song for All Time," and if it's in reference to the Rapture, well, at least the cut sounds like the Magnetic Fields doing a sexy version of Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers." The album really perks up in its midsection, with highlights like the percolating a-ha-ness of "From Mount Chorus" ("A song to reach the ends of the Earth!"), a touchingly weird tribute to inventor Nikola Tesla, and "Post Calendar," where Martin's maudlin delivery reaches new levels of fatalistic detachment. He's Morrissey, downloaded into a ROM pack. In the end, Hello, Mannequin's larger Legacy agenda doesn't really reveal itself overtly. There's no burning bush. But the album is another stylistic triumph for Ronnie Martin and his Joy Electric, which keeps finding new and invigorating ways to recast the keyboard past. Thanks be to Roland.

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