When synthesizers twerp in a certain dark, robotic way, it's easy to categorize the music as retro synth pop made for muso-insiders, insiders who wish that Fad Gadget and Soft Cell were still around. Featuring members Kenny Glasgow and Jonny White, Toronto's Art Department arrived as retro and more on their debut, and they've grown even more on their sophomore release. If they were simply aping the first Depeche Mode album, Front 242's middle work, or Gary Numan crossed with Salem, then "The Hunt" wouldn't pump like Detroit techno with a goth aesthetic while the great "Cruel Intentions" with Seth Troxler is some kind of funky haunted disco house, or maybe an Erasure and Diddy collaboration remixed by Tiga.
Canada has always been a good place to be for electronic music production but lately, thanks in no small way to Caribou, its profile has elevated still further. It would seem to be a good time, then, for Toronto duo Art Department to venture back with their second album. Their first record The Drawing Board impressed with its downbeat emotion and a minimal yet focussed approach.
Within the narrow parameters it defined for itself, Art Department's The Drawing Board was an impressive debut album. Disciplined and cohesive, it contained devastatingly simple songs that, in their sparse fusion of Chicago house and '80s synth-pop, were the perfect mechanical foil to Kenny Glasgow's bereft vocals. This was pop-house, but pop-house that, in "I C U" or "Without You," plumbed the emotional depths.
Art Department's 2011 debut album, The Drawing Board, made a big impression: the combination of gloomy new wave and understated deep house made for a unique collection of depressing yet surprisingly danceable tunes. Toronto duo Kenny Glasgow and Jonny White's follow-up moves further away from the dance floor, taking risks that sometimes pay off but lead to mixed results overall. Seth Troxler makes another guest appearance, but his darkly sleazy vocals on Cruel Intentions make it unlikely to join the club hits of AD's debut.