2011 was the year of electronic music kick-assery, and even if Eight and a Half is a month late to the party, they brought decent booze, and no one’s sorry they showed up. Lacking the bombastic brain explosion of M83’s ecstatic Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and yet not quite as sinister as the hooks of Phantogram single “Don’t Move,” Eight and a Half are a little closer to the pillowy textures (sextures?) of Washed Out, though it’s less moody than Within and Without and doesn’t try to catch that album’s seamlessness. And because Eight and a Half left their vocals comprehensible (a conscious decision, these days), they trade mysticism and raw feeling (again, think Ernest Greene) for thoughtful lyricism. It’s nice to know what a guy’s saying for once.
Eight and a Half pack a solid roster, too, with The Stills’ Dave Hamelin crooning and ooing and Liam O’Neil orchestrating all kinds of synth magic, along with Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff, who’s commendably happy to let production loop and alter his beats. There’s plenty going on here: You’ve got your drum-fueled riff-looped radio single chug-/sing-along in “Go Ego,” basic noise/instrumental album opener “When I Was Twenty Nine” (apparently not much to sing about then), the lackluster Colplay-esque “The Turn Around.” What you’ll keep coming back to is the rightly pre-streamed “Scissors,” which showcases Hamelin’s decidedly pretty voice and the trio’s clarity of writing: opening line “If I could cut you with these scissors” compresses hurt, restraint, and anger as well as chorus “Hold me like an old friend” compresses exhaustion and relief, the lifting of burdens.
“Wait Up” layers keyboard and electric guitar riffs behind a latticework of spiraling beeps and boops and comes crashing down at “Wait up for me ‘cause / it’s five in the morning / and I’m wide awake.” “Walked into Diazepene” is a couple repetitions short of the Phoenix playbook and prominently features what sounds like a frog croaking as part of its beat. By the end of the album, most of the momentum is gone, and closer “My Forevers” is really just “The Return of When I Was Twenty Nine” but sampled with the melody from “Scissors,” which means that there’s really only eight (and a half?) songs with good, original content.