When nothing feels new, we as humans reach for the old, extend a hand to what is comfortable and safe. Nostalgia reigns supreme as a result, as creators try to strike a balance between those creature comforts and a new monster altogether. In the synthpop and post-punk worlds, this struggle is pervasive, but making it look all too easy is Los Angeles songstress Riki. On her second record Gold, what was old is new again, as Riki takes a bold step forward in an institutional genre.
“Lo” starts things off sonically in the late Eighties, especially in the quieter verses with a swelling, chime-laden chorus. The bassline is hum-worthy on this infectious opening track, before sliding into goth rock territory on “Marigold,” which might be my personal favorite track on the disc. It rides the line between bouncy and moody, maintaining a danceable rhythm with gliding synth licks. “Oil and Metal,” the instrumental intro in particular , wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Depeche Mode’s Violator, but while the track calls back to more familiar melodies, the shimmery synth work is what gives that recognizable tune a fresh coat of paint. The structure of the dueling vocal lines, one talk-sung and one emphatically crooned, is a nice nod to the song’s title as well.
The chilled-out, dub-informed “It’s No Secret” is a cloud walking number, with delay-steeped guitar interludes and a minimal drum part. It’s one of a handful of tracks with a smooth sax lick, giving a big city feel to this otherwise ephemeral song. “Sonar” is vocal-forward with a plucky bass groove. It is here that we see Riki’s full vocal range, be it her singing us to slumber or urging us closer to that old haunt. On the subject of old haunts, the opening to “Last Summer” is as post-punk as we get, with tubular bass lines and the odd chorus-tinged guitar moment. Aside from “Marigold,” this may be the most radio-ready, “puts the ‘pop’ in synthpop” track of the album.
Within “Viktor” lies the very definition of grey sky guitar, though the song is a synthpop number first and foremost. There’s a stirring beauty about this track, a reverent admiration of sorts. The final two tunes, “Porque Te Vas” and “Florence and Selena” are just fun, the former for its Latin flavor and hypnotic vocal melody, and the latter for its retro-futuristic flavors, and the return of that swinging saxophone. All told, we make our way back around to that Eighties synthpop flavor we began with, but the song is far from the same.
If her sound is this dynamic and sweeping on only her sophomore outing, imagine what Riki can do in the future. Gold is a joy of a record that must not slip under the radar of an avid synthpop fan. There is plenty to dance to here, but there’s perhaps even more to get lost in on a first or second listen. It’s fresh, and for a style of music that has one super-prominent touchstone or point of reference, that is nothing short of an achievement.
Gold is available now via Dais Records.