Album Review: Miami Horror - 'All Possible Futures'

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Miami Horror delivers a rich and keenly emotive pop/dance record that is 80s nostalgia done right.

All Possible Futures is nostalgic 80s throwback dance. It's easy to take this in a condescending way; after all, we've been receiving a glut of 80s nostalgia in music recently, from re-thrash to a new wave of shoegaze that seems to think Cocteau Twins began and ended the world and pop records that sound like obvious, if satisfying, pastiches of Madonna, Sade and Whitney Houston.

Not to say all of those acts are merely backward-gazing or that nostalgia has no place in art.

Just that a number of groups seem to set out more to nod to heroes than to contribute to the thing that inspired them, and a lot of that comes down more to detail work than the root idea.

This is where Miami Horror shines.

Like AM & Shawn Lee before them with 2013's spectacular La Musique Numerique, Miami Horror remembers that one of the unsung attributes of the kind of 80s dance-pop they are evoking was that it was actually a blend of a couple genre and technical elements.

Synthesizers and sequencers and drum machines had finally dropped significantly in price, allowing groups and players to invest the same amount of money and time into a rig as a guitarist and achieve roughly as wide a palette of then-futuristic sounds.

The heavy emphasis on thick beds of synthesizers and a plethora of bells and whistles was partly a changing of the guard, a barely-disguised reemergence of the progressive rock of the 70s made available and plausible without anti-social woodshedding.

It was this kind of fervor that drove songs and records of old: not just novelty, but something coming into reach that let players finally fill out the sounds they'd always had in their head but never had the ability to play, either by limits in technical ability or more crass financial barriers.

Likewise, 80s pop production wasn't merely former proggers and prog fans (with Trevor Horn of the Buggles and Yes ever at the apex of this group) turning to something more approachable but also the emergence into pop consciousness of a number of other formerly marginal genres in the US and UK pop scene.

The primarily black audiences of funk, disco, and reggae found purchase in mainstream circles, most obviously in Michael Jackson and Bob Marley.

Miami Horror seems particularly keen on the combination of funk, disco and soft rock that Michael Jackson made into his signature sound in the late 70s through to the 90s.

Likewise, the touch of the artsy new wave of Talking Heads, which delved into much of the same influences with the rest of the emerging post-punk scene of the 80s, is found all over this record, particularly in the "Once in a Lifetime"-inspired vocal break in "Out of Sight."

It's by paying attention to these small details, the tiny convergences emerging in a plethora that led inexorably to the great pop works of Madonna and Michael Jackson's 80s records, that allows them to so satisfactorily recreate them. This is not a mind-blowing album, nor a particularly inventive one, but it is more than satisfactory in accomplishing its goals.

It slips on a sound of another era without sounding dated or forced or cheap or, worse, just plain lame.

There is enough digital sheen and sharpness to the production, enough subtle separation of the instruments and spacing in stereo to make this album sound modern without breaking the illusion that this could be a gorgeous remastering of some lost pop and new wave record.

Pop, thankfully, acts as a microcosm of music entire: it doesn't have to be experimental so long as it has good songs.

That is to say that a good melody or an infectious rhythm or rich production or an interesting sound can be enough to save a pop song and make it worth listening to.

The confluence of more than one of these elements is just an added bonus, the thing that lifts a good pop song to a great one to a legendary one.

This record is, by all estimations, an excellent pop album. It won't cause you to re-evaluate your world, but it may dig up some long-forgotten memories or soundtrack something new for you, with just enough overt emotionalism and melodic/harmonic/rhythmic richness to feel something closer to a living music video than just a background song.

That's good enough. Pop and dance, more obviously than any other genres of music, live to serve. And this does.

A slight hint of darkness and melancholy and despair and hurting underpins this set of songs by Miami Horror.

It justified their name more immediately to me than perhaps it would have otherwise. There are gloomier turns of phrase sprinkled across their otherwise dreamy and tropical pastel-colored songs than one might expect.

This is a key component to what makes the record work: It is not afraid to complicate itself, to offer slight creeping shadow over its otherwise warm body. It doesn't deny or destroy the positive feelings within the record but instead makes them feel more real, more earned.

The conflicted nature of the lyrics, tracing their footsteps through that most bizarre and human labyrinths of the heart, lets the music resonate bittersweetly, undercutting potential cheese before it has the chance to form.

It's a simple and long-understood touch to dose sweetness with darkness to make both more resonant and more real. It's a little touch, but it's appreciated.

Image taken from Miami Horror's Facebook page.

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