I don’t know who Midwest Product is and I don’t know what they’re trying to pull. I can’t tell if they’re being serious or they’re having a laugh at my expense. But I do know they’ve got themselves a fine electronic rock record here.
Or is it two? The album is split between two completely different moods: one is snarky and humorously simple, the other is emotionally complex and beautiful. It’s sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but by the end, it’s really not worth talking about. Better to just enjoy it for what it is.
The opener sounds like the musical offspring of the Notwist and the nihilists in The Big Lebowski. It’s got simple, blippy beats mated with a flowing guitar riff that’s more suited to a blubbering, please-take-me-back kind of tune — but Midwest Product instead dubs the tune “Dead Cat” and talks about visiting the grave of some dead cat. The head scratching continues with the “Safety Dance”-esque goofy pop of “Bank,” where a robotic monotone extols the virtues of working at the local bank with pride.
Right around this point you get the feeling these guys are crouched behind a door, waiting for some unsuspecting fool like myself to talk about how great it is and then jump out pointing and laughing, satisfied with suckering you into their trap.
They give you a chance to consider these possibilities with “Swamp” and “Avant Poop,” the subsequent instrumentals that play with similar blends of simple yet melodious sound. Free from having to worry about their intentions, it becomes clear that the production on this record has been nearly flawless; every sound is crisp and clear and is leveled right where it needs to be in the mix. According to the liner notes, it was recorded in singer/guitarist Ben Mullin’s room and “the hallway just outside of his room.” The sound makes it hard to believe, but if it’s true, it sets the bar for bedroom recorders everywhere.
As these positives add up, Midwest Product stages an ambush, striking at the most opportune moment with the strongest track on the album, “Duckpond.” As the kitsch of “Dead Cat” and “Bank” has faded, “Duckpond” rattles with unbridled emotion. Its soaring chords buttressed by flittering electronics, you can only keep up with it for so long before it glides away, leaving you behind. The momentum is kept up with the pulsing “Motivator,” a song that Depeche Mode would love to have in their catalogue. The lyrics are belted out by what sounds like an entire choir, which is a bit heavy-handed (and also muddies the lyrics), but it still sounds great. The guitar-plucking coda is at once completely unexpected and absolutely perfect.
As the mournful glaze of the closer “Unbrella” melts away, you’ll no doubt find yourself wondering how you got to this point from a song called “Dead Cat.” Midwest Product manages to separate their tongue from their cheek so slowly that it’s barely perceptible, an amazing feat in the span of only seven songs. The album’s brevity leaves you wanting more — a rare quality amongst bloated albums full of worthless filler. It may or may not be at your expense, but Midwest Product has succeeded here.