- When RA offered a stream of Phillip Lauer's first solo album last month, I'll wager that more than a few groans went up at the description "yacht rock house." If you were one of them, allow me to make our case. Sometime back in the early '80s, a particularly smooth brand of rock emerged, led by songs like Christopher Cross' "Ride Like the Wind". Much later, after the sound had faded, it was given the tongue-in-cheek name "yacht rock," as supposedly that's how its creators and fans enjoyed it: on their yachts, with the wind ruffling their hair. If you take Cross' big hits, remove the vocals and insert some modern beats, you have a close approximation of these 12 new tracks from the man who is one half of Arto Mwambe and Tuff City Kids. Yes, really.
Phillips is unashamedly kitsch with few exceptions. But to portray it as just another retro cash-in would be a serious disservice. Lauer has been writing music for over a decade and it's readily apparent. His tracks are packed with distinctive synth lines, none of which ever seem to collide. And though his creations refer heavily to the past, it's not their raison d'être. (Perhaps except for "Miamisync," which channels the excesses of Jan Hammer's 1985 Miami Vice tracks.) Like much of Lauer's previous work, Phillips is chiefly concerned with having fun. (It's hard to imagine anyone plopping down in the dark to enjoy the album on headphones.) Phillips is not possessed with a well-defined narrative arc or logical sequence—nor does this matter. Its infectious jams actually seem to render these concepts temporarily irrelevant; the tracks are too joyous for anyone to worry about what's coming next.
Take the fourth cut, "Hafflinger." Only a cold-hearted person could fail to be swayed by its cascading xylophone hits or the sustained whirling pattern they later take on. Hell, even its supporting cast―twitchy electric piano and tuba-like bass―are captivating. "Hafflinger" is just the best example, but all the tracks on Phillips are doozies in some way or another. Slicked with greasy synths, the broken-beat "Sheldor" shows off electro's more expansive side; "Coppers" touches on nu disco via trembling bass and bright swathes of chords; while "Frontex Slowfox" gets a tad sleazy, rallying around descending licks of prairie guitar.
Too often, the word "fun" is used to excuse inane music. But in utterly embracing gaudiness, and presenting it via superb songwriting, Lauer has sidestepped cheese and wrote a marvellous album in doing so.
05. Frontex Slowfox
10. Delmar 2700