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The Shortwave Set

Replica Sun Machine

Rating: 4.5

Label: Wall of Sound

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In the unlikelihood that Danger Mouse is reading this, he should interpret it as a thinly veiled thank-you letter for producing The Shortwave Set’s new album. Without his pseudonym attached, I would not have heard Replica Sun Machine and find myself with a new album to become obsessed with.

Often with a Danger Mouse production his presence is obvious, as songs tend to take on his signature percussion-driven retro-hip style. While this is a given in his collaboration albums with Cee-Lo and MF DOOM, it’s also true when his name isn’t on the cover, such as in Beck’s Modern Guilt. Immediately when Replica Sun Machine opens he performs a magic trick: in “Harmonia” he shows us his hand with an instrumental loop reminiscent of The Good, the Bad, and The Queen. Showing us there is nothing up his sleeve, he suddenly pulls a neo-psychedelic pop band out of his hat and makes himself disappear. Gasps are followed by oohs, ahs, and finally, applause.

Don’t worry, the band isn’t all alone on stage. They’ve got a 24-piece orchestra arranged by Van Dyke Parks and “viola, synths and atmospheres” from John Cale. If that doesn’t make you feel better, know that Danger Mouse is just behind the curtain. You can hear him sometimes. The Shortwave Set doesn’t collapse under the pressure, thankfully. Songs on Replica Sun Machine go back and forth between upbeat pop and bigger, moodier pieces, all under a firm layer of psychedelia. The band handles moody ambience and pop with equal adeptness, and often in the same breath, as in the Beatles-like “House of Lies.”

Despite the psychedelic tag, the album never feels like retro-pastiche or imitation, with the possible exception of the appropriately titled “Sun Machine.” The band doesn’t go full-on Hair but it’s the closest they get to being obvious – which thankfully isn’t very.

Danger Mouse isn’t entirely invisible from the proceedings; what would be the point? Particularly, seven tracks into Replica Sun Machine we have the single “No Social,” which sounds like a vintage Danger Mouse production with its percussion-heavy and funky retro aesthetic. Is that hip-hop-influenced organ playing? Does that chorus have the vague flavor of glam? Am I loving every second of this?

While not necessarily a funny band, The Shortwave Set certainly have a sense of humor in their songwriting, particularly with lines like, “Everyone knows that a dog dressed in clothes is still a dog,” from “No Social,” or “We’ve found a new solution/ It’s the same one as before” on “The Downer Song.” Often the lyrics on Replica Sun Machine fall into that vaguely sci-fi realm I love so much. Vocalists Andrew Pettitt (who sounds a bit like Badly Drawn Boy/John Lennon on his own) and Ulrika Bjorsne (whose Swedish accent makes the songs uniquely otherworldly) sing, “Your replica/ Your atom bomb/ Will keep you warm,” on “Replica” and, less seriously, “Don’t flip the switches/ Don’t pull the plugs/ Because it’s just glitches/ It’s glitches and bugs” on “Glitches and Bugs.”

All it takes is a reference to electronics here and there and I can listen while reading Jack Kirby comics. Thanks, guys.

by Danny Djeljosevic

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