I love how often light and dark get mistaken as the other. It's a solid bet that it will lead you to some of the most baffling and pointless (and therefore most fun) disagreements you're likely to have. I'm still in debt for the laughs, pain, and genuine confusion in discussing why Trust Now is not an “evil” record (nor is it monochrome), how Sleep∞Over isn't witch house, or Ron Paul in general. But that's a little too off-the-rails; what you really need to know is I was overcome with a relatable shock when I first saw Boy Friend last summer at the Silent Barn before the venue's untimely demise. The brand of goth one might expect to encounter after being told they're about to see “Beach House in a graveyard” was made far lighter and more animated in the hands of this Austin duo, formerly of the original Sleep∞Over line-up.
Their debut full-length, Egyptian Wrinkle, keeps that atmosphere in tact: an ether-induced fantasia that, while at turns foreboding and ominous, more accurately exudes the washed out absence of purgatory. When caught up in limbo, the mind fantasizes over times spent in bed surrounded by puppies (reportedly how this album was recorded). And like a good fantasy, the excitement is amped by the increased risk and the noticeable pain in being submerged in the unfamiliar. Christa Palozzo and Sarah Brown are waist deep in an interdimensional quest for pop's holy grail: love. Not necessarily the romantic sort — the relative ambiguity of the lyrics convey little more than an journeying impression to the naked ear. I'd say the “Sleep∞Over break-up album” thing is a bit tired by now, but it's a helpful detail in opening up their search for love as something greater than nabbing a boy friend (get it??).
Christa's lush organ tones swirl easily into a robust synthetic orchestra, from the vocoder'd back-up vocals on the title track to the regal blasts of brass during the chorus of “Lovedropper.” Oftentimes they're so bass-heavy and gutsy that they shatter the very stereo image, foregoing the very viable Cocteau Twins comparisons to encompass something more along the lines of Keith Sweat's paranoid remembrances (it also ends up making this album bump on laptop speakers). Her voice tames the electronics' wild waves — affected but confident, a veteran of their mission with a cool head that's not too chilled to let loose. The secret weapon here is Sarah's guitar work that, in tandem with Christa's smooth croon, wraps around the walls like a tight wire wraps around a sparkling gem, snaking and sliding around the translucent murk and literally stealing the show on unexpected instrumental highlight “Rogue Waves I.” It also really, really fuels the Beach House comparisons.
At times though, as noted much more brutally by John Calvert for Drowned in Sound, it feels like there's little contrast in an album whose very mood is inherently contrasted. I too, was a little tripped up by this when I was first listening, especially after listening to Grimes' latest where she does quite the opposite and assumes about 100 different characters with, a more elaborate, but similar set of tools to startling effect. But outside of being girls and liking electronics, Boy Friend doesn't have much to do with Grimes, and it seems clear that Egyptian Wrinkle was a record intended to provoke a singular spiritual funk. It's just that, in doing so, it may have limited its reach to people. I can totally forgive someone for being a little miffed by the time they make it to the bonus track cover of “Careless Whisper” and realize that with the treatment its given and if the lyrics were different, it could be confused for multiple other originals on the album. Sadly, they might get too caught up to realize gems like “Bad Dreams” or “The Lair” or remember the chances they did take with the elegant opener, the proggy form of the title track, and the harmonized vocal interlude “Breathe.”
These ladies are still young though, and hopefully the worlds of progress they've made will be felt by new-comers. At the end of the day, this album is an enjoyable document of the ol' slumber partyers that does their old work and true talent much greater justice than their previous self-titled EP did, even if it could have easily been trimmed from a short LP that lingers to a full, stellar EP. I wouldn't be surprised if baggage from associated acts and the blogospheric chatter of yore continue to limit people's interpretations, but in a very basic way it's a success to finally have their best material on wax at all. If you're up to get lost in mysterious electronic pop balladry with syrup-thick walls of sound and one of the better vocal performers in the scene — and keep it about as simple as that — you'll dig Egyptian Wrinkle.