Fast Computers’ early singles showed the band members to be experimenting with irony when they chose their band name. The songs were stripped-down, lo-fi compositions, their synth tracks seemingly spawned from the auto-rhythm button on a thrift-store Casio. I can’t imagine that any computer faster than an Atari 2600 touched those recordings.
The irony ends on Heart Geometry, Fast Computers’ first full-length. The group has jacked up the production values, now incorporating strings, guitar, electric piano — even the occasional glockenspiel. The stripped-down aesthetic has been replaced by complex, sweeping arrangements. Yet, the squiggly vintage synths still bubble to the surface, hi-fi and lo-fi bumping heads in the midst of brainy, earnest pop songs. Consider opener "Sweden Hasn’t Changed, You Have," where a sparse Casio beat gives way to a powerful full-band orchestration. The title track punctuates gorgeous piano pop with synths, strings, and an honest-to-god trumpet solo.
And it’s all pretty good. It could be better, though — particularly in regard to the vocals. It’s not that Peter Dean, who sings lead on every song, is a bad singer. The group might be better off if he were. He’s got the sort of voice you could hear a thousand times but still not be able to identify if you heard him singing a jingle for household cleaning products. His vocals lack the character necessary to pierce through his own dense instrumentals. It’s impossible not to wonder how these songs might sound voiced by more compelling singer. The delightful power pop of "How Many Times," for example, might have been knocked over the top by a more dynamic lead vocalist. "The Heart of the City" glances toward blue-eyed soul but doesn’t reach it. But, as usual, the guy who writes the songs is compelled to sing them. Such is the tyranny of indie rock.
There are moments when the collision between lo-fi and hi-fi strands Fast Computers in a kind of sonic no-man’s land. Let’s call it "mid-fi" — not quite lush enough to deliver warm and fuzzies, not clunky enough to come off as charmingly quaint. Certain recurring wheezy synth and electric-piano sounds grow tiresome over the course of eleven tracks.
If these seem like piddling complaints, they probably are. Heart Geometry proves Fast Computers can deliver an LP’s worth of good songs and perform them with great care and imagination. All that’s lacking is a little blood and guts in the execution.