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Primaries Review

by Marcy Donelson

On their unpredictable third Win Win album, Primaries, the trio of Chris Devlin, Alex Epton (aka XXXChange), and Ryan Sciaino (aka Ghostdad) have their fingers on all manner of keyboards honoring the electronics familiar to prior releases, and toes on a pedal board fronting psychedelic guitar and acoustic drums for a strangely anachronistic mix that reaches beyond a simple blending of styles. The shift from their prior dance-focused sound is announced on the mellow opening track, "It's Karma Too," which begins with humming synth tones before adding electric guitar, drums, vocals, and eventually sitar-type effects. The song's explorations of texture, noise, and even form continue throughout the album, though not always in a balanced fashion. For instance, the second track, the contrasting "Been So Long," is a twinkling, catchy, color-blooming blast of pure synth pop co-written with Jahphet Landis (TV on the Radio) and Courtney Epton. While it certainly has passing experimental elements -- playing with tones and feedback-like moans and squeals -- the truly experimental comes later in songs like the form-shifting "Holly Body" with avant-garde electronics and vocal chants, and the serpentine "Amoeba." Splitting the difference is "Couch Paranoia," part Kraftwerk and part lo-fi Beck, with distorted tandem lead vocals and response vocals, early-'80s drum machine sounds, and trippy enhancements. Apropos trippy, while most of the album has psychedelic elements, it hits full-on '60s with "Landfall" and the George Harrison-haunted "Message" among others, albeit with contemporary touches. With the focus on traditional rock band instrumentation certainly contributing to a warmer and meatier sound than on their more electronic Win Win or Double Vision, and with a mix of experimental and more commercial songwriting, the result is both messy and cutting edge-feeling. Ultimately, Primaries is like a self-produced mixtape for the scattered and style-busting indie landscape of its time.

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