Over the course of the past decade, indie dance pop, for lack of a better term, has grown from curious novelty to a veritable cottage industry of skinny white guys with drum machines and MicroKorgs. The recent ubiquity of these bands isn’t exactly surprising — there has been and always will be a place for catchy, mid-tempo party music — but about two years ago the modern incarnation of electropop seemingly hit its tipping point. Hot Chip’s ramshackle blend of idiosyncratic bedroom pop with club beats and Cut Copy’s 21st century re-working of New Order’s synth-driven pop rock cast the mold for crossover success and opened the door for legions of watered-down imitators.
Despite having released its debut in 2005, Miami’s Awesome New Republic is one of those watered-down imitators, and Hearts, does little to alter that assessment. Hearts is, in every respect, a second- (and at times, third- or fourth-) tier version of the last five or six years of electronic pop music. Album opener “Whatever” is a halfway-catchy synth and drum-machine dance number that wouldn’t sound out of place in a car commercial, provided the company did not have the advertising budget to afford a Phoenix song.
From there, Hearts devolves into series of proficient yet uninspired rehashes of synth-pop songs that would have sounded dated in 1989 and are thoroughly unnecessary in 2009. By and large, the songs are well-produced, but they’re hampered by a serious lack of memorable hooks and vocalist Michael-John Hancocks’ vanilla singing voice and dollar-store Prince falsetto.
With its acoustic-guitar intro and understated synth flourishes that give way to a Peter Hook style bass line, “Digital World” comes closest to realizing Hearts’ crossover pop/rock ambition, but once again, this is familiar territory. “Digital World” could pass for a B-side on Cut Copy’s terrific In Ghost Colours.
To its credit, Hearts does have a standout track: the slick, club-ready “Deep Love.” With its simple 4/4 beat and (once again) New Order synth stabs, it’s no more innovative or daring than any of the record’s other tracks, but it nonetheless possesses a cool nonchalance and genuine sense of fun that the rest of Hearts sorely lacks. Clocking in at just under three minutes, “Deep Love” is a rare instance of Awesome New Republic finding the right balance between campy ’80s revival and solid pop songwriting.
Despite its proficient production and occasional catchy moments, Hearts lacks — please excuse me here — heart. It’s relentlessly by-the-numbers, and it offers nothing that cannot be found in any number of other dance-pop albums. If you’ll indulge me once more, Awesome New Republic is neither “Awesome” nor “New,” leaving just “Republic” — a New Order album that is a far more enjoyable listening experience than is Hearts.