Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Hello Beautiful – Supernova Love

69What is it about listening to music while driving that makes it sound so good? Off the top of my head, I reflect on how a sense of temporary emotional release encompasses every one of your senses, and the music forms a mere part of this internal easing. Night driving, however, incorporates all of the above, and more, offering an almost wholly superior experience, characterized by one’s heightened responsiveness to even the slightest movement. Gliding through the darkness bathed in eerie streetlights, the steady, open-rhythm of synth-pop music, at its best, is capable of providing that perfect soundtrack to those empty roads, where an amplified awareness of the mechanics working beneath you and the distinct purr of the motor work perfectly alongside the aerated palpitations of the music (think of the never-ending opening of Drive). With the neon-tinged dashboard emulating a space-capsule, the unification of music and a night drive is capable of transporting you to a different time and space.  You will find that Supernova Love, the debut EP by Cape Town synth-pop act, Hello Beautiful, is the perfect accompaniment to these drives – whether they’re late at night, or during the day, making it a ‘must have’ 80s-inspired slice-of-cheese of an EP for what will most likely be a brilliant summer. 

Hello Beautiful is a Cape Town-based synth pop act belonging to Matthieu Auriacombe, who you probably know better from his involvement in other notable South African acts such as Kidofdoom, Pity the Fool, and most recently, Beach Party. With their respective sounds ranging from psychedelic rock to punk/surf-rock, his eclectic capabilities resonate deep-within his newest musical venture, yet it perhaps qualifies a simpler and catchier sound. While listening to it, however, I couldn’t help but feel slightly frustrated by the categorically straightforward and clichéd sound, when all I could think about was the complexity and reverence he has been able to achieve as bassist in those other distinguished acts. It is, however, hard to deny that this kind of music can get anyone grooving. As such, you find a way of accepting it as it is, and let the synthesizers do what they do best: lure you in.

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Supernova Love is an EP that caters directly to a listener’s greater dance sensibilities more than anything else, with an immediate comparison to be made between him and local synth-poppers, Gateway Drugs (who he has remixed, and one half of whom shows up on the track ‘The Other Side’). Yet, there is a definite distinction between the two: take the lazy, daytime beach vibe of Gateway Drugs and throw it into a whirlwind evening of intoxication and strobe lights – this is what consummates the sound of Hello Beautiful.

The similarities between the two acts, however, resound in the hyper-optimistic and endearingly self-deprecating lyrics. Title track, ‘Supernova Love’, sports lyrics such as “Take me back to the good old 1980s” and the repetition of “Move closer, come Supernova” nestle in and get firmly stuck in your brain.  Right off the bat, the 80s and space iconography and sounds are promulgated throughout, and you gotta hand it to him for taking the overall aesthetic right to the edge of its tether, and I mean right to the edge of its tether.

The thick, compressed, and well-produced pulsations and rhythmic percussions form the soundscape that the unprocessed vocals work over, yet the result of combining the two creates a slightly disjointed blend, rather than a smooth amalgamation of the mechanical and the real. I longed for some form of unity between the two. Perhaps the intention was to elevate their distinctive realms to their full potential, rather than treat them as individual means to an end, but it simply ends up denying the clean mechanical cohesion we expect from space-inspired synth-pop. The familiarity of the vocal collaborators on the EP, however, does create a sense of nostalgia, and each track becomes more susceptible to being a sung-a-long-to than the next.

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‘Midnight Vision’ is a jarring introduction to the EP, allowing the listener to prepare for the musical space-quest that follows. Yet when one listens to the rest of the playful EP, flooded as it is in sweeping synthesizers, it’s hard to see where it fits in. It seems like it was just placed there for effect, but serves no greater purpose as a song on the album. However, the following track, ‘Paranoia,’ featuring vocals by Laudo Liebenberg (aKing) and Danielle Hitchcock (Beach Party, The Dollfins) sets the tone for the rest of the EP. The inclusion of Laudo’s vocals which are so synonymous with aKing is an aspect that most definitely, and somewhat comically, accommodates the nostalgia trip Hello Beautiful has created for us, as it’s hard to think of a more 80s sounding band than aKing, reminiscent of good old Toto. If anything, the vocals of Danielle Hitchcock and Gabriel Thorpe (Gateway Drugs) are the best-suited to the soundscape, providing standout moments on the EP.

Although the rotating door of vocalists provides some difference from one track to a next, but for the most there is an overwhelming likeness, which can get a bit tedious on repeated listens. One yearns for a bit more variation, even as the propelling synths and cosmic trimmings make it hard for you to not get your head bobbing and feet tapping.

As a debut EP, it’s exciting to see what Auriacombe has been able to achieve. He has most certainly caught the attention of many looking to gather any ounce of exhilaration.  When emulating a space-quest is perhaps the most exhilarating thing you can achieve with music, why not give it a bash? Its simplicity is endearing, yet significantly reduces its permanence. This, however, means one thing above all: we will need new music from him soon!

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