I’ll just come right out and say it – there’s a lot to enjoy on this album. If you’re a fan of hook-ladened synth-pop, then POP ETC provides you with your fill and then some. There are melodies on this record that have stayed with me long after the last song, to the point where it requires an immediate replay. But with that being said, there’s also a fair amount of material on this album that’s disappointing. And not because it’s a departure from the band’s former style as the morning benders, because I didn’t start listening to those records until after I listened to the POP ETC mixtape. It’s just that with some of these songs, the stylings and lyrics are pretty cheesy and mundane, and it gets to the point where fast-forwarding is the immediate thought as soon as a few particular song(s) come on.
First we’ll start with the good, nay, the great: “Back to Your Heart,” “R.Y.B.,” and “Yoyo” are probably the catchiest songs I’m going to hear all year. They’re like a cold you just can’t shake, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Their thick synth lines linger in your brain, and you’ll try other remedies, (Me? I tried other pop records that could only be described as infectious) but no medicine will relieve you. “Yoyo” particularly seems fit for Top 40 Radio. The simplistic lyrics and basic beats could almost be confused as being the newest song from One Direction. But nope. Believe or not, this is the product of an indie band who’ve taken part in a metamorphosis of sorts from a psych-pop beach band to the likes of the latest electro-pop craze that continues to flood the airwaves. I shouldn’t be complaining. I love the song and can’t get enough of it. Call it a guilty pleasure if you want, but it’s still playing in my head and I’m not ashamed.
Building up to those moments, POP ETC set the tone right from the get-go with the opener “New Life” – an auto-tuned love song that has more in common with the robotic crooning of Daft Punk on “Something About Us” than the rest of the auto-tuned garbage on the radio. Lead singer Chris Chu has a good voice, so auto-tune isn’t exactly necessary, but the effects add to the mood and complement the band’s new style. The band overdoes things a bit with the auto-tune effect, but not to the point where it ever really sounds bad or out of place. It just appears too often, mostly in spots where it’s not necessary.
Now the bad: Chu’s influence of early-90’s R&B and dance music doesn’t always transfer well to POP ETC. The lyrics on “Live It Up” are cringe-worthy to the point where I can’t tell if Chu is trying to be serious or tongue-in-cheek. Regardless, it’s tough to bear listening to him explain how he’s a player, and that he respects women by not calling them ‘ho’s.’ “Live it Up” isn’t the only example of this. It’s rampant on songs like “Halfway to Heaven” and “I Wanna Be Your Man,” begging the question, “Was the style departure from the morning benders really worth it?”
After listening to the POP ETC mixtape and my three favorite songs on this album, all I can say is…maybe?