Hecuba

Modern

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The second release by L.A. duo Hecuba arguably confirms every initial impression that a description of a 21st century synth-based art performance male/female duo might provide -- which admittedly might seem ridiculously specific. Still, the greatest of bands even slightly falling under that description are the ones that counteract implied jokes about Dieter and Sprockets and the like by performing unsettled, vibrant, and distinct music -- fling a stereotype at one's peril. So from the start, with the clipped, threatening crunch of "Dancing," Isabelle Albuquerque's voice coming from the position of emotionally invested command, Modern exists more in the realm of individual riff on a form than some sort of specifically retro clone. (The fact that they have a paired set of tracks called "Turn Out the Lights," where Jon Beasley does the first as a '50s lounge tearjerker while Albuquerque tackles the second with a cryptic, questioning tone partially backed by oboe, further shows how hard it is to put Modern into a simple box.) The combination of the two singers throughout -- Beasley acting more as understated counterpoint to Albuquerque's voice and lyrics -- provides an intriguing focus for the songs, thus his interjection of "Can't help myself!" on the stern "Hurt You." Meanwhile, the queasy vocal/organ start of "Faith," the stark and spacious feeling of the title track, and the crumbling closer "Crime, Violence," with stentorian beats and big evil synth fanfares seeing everything out on an unsettled note, are further testimonies to Hecuba's clear strengths.

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