Dusting the faded fuzz off of their post-Golden Triangle debut, Not Nothing, Xray Eyeballs hope to hang ten on yesterday’s (new) wave with their polished sophomore debut, Splendor Squalor. For their new, full-bodied album, Xray Eyeballz’ O.J. San Felipe and Carly Rabalais added drummer Sarah Baldwin and synth specialist Liz Lohse. Lohse’s synths may be the real splendor in the squalor, pumping up the pulse for the album’s first real ear-catcher, “X.” Lohse’s high-pitched synth almost mimics vintage arcade sounds in “X,” playing perfectly into the song’s mind games as it ricochets with neck-crunching snaps between the dual chorus lines, “I control you/You control me.”
Aside from “X,” the other standout track may be their Golden Triangle cover. O.J. steps into the background for Xray’s cover of Golden Triangle’s “Cold Bones.” Much more polished than the original, the song still maintains its vaguely girl-group sound, like Josie Cotton’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” hit Girls in the Garage and then put on some black lipstick. While the original may be more energetic, this version still sounds sweet and stands out from the murky harmony of Splendor Squalor.
In the end, that may be Splendor Squalor’s real breaking point: it’s too damn harmonious. Every song is cut from the same cloth, and surprises rarely lurk. The band’s earned a “gothic” or “dark” label, ostensibly for their dead-eyed monotones and ability to zap emotion from a track (see the sometimes- humorous, generally freaky closer “Summer Daze,” which features a word association list of fun summer things that ends up sounding like Xray’s “singers” are aliens trying to integrate into human society). But while their echoed emptiness may be eerie, Splendor Squalor lacks the tension and tangibility to truly strike fear – like cartoon ghosts, Xray seems hazily untouchable and incapable of harm.
Splendor Squalor has that 80s-reinterpreting-the-60s vibe, like Grease for garage rock. Synths swarm jangling guitars and new wave meets the rough stuff for a sound that’s surprisingly appropriate for audiences of all ages. Splendor Squalor is easy listening for punk rock fans and adds a bit of a candied blank generation into its pop, striking a balance so perfect, it’s less like watching someone teeter than stand still. Yet it’s hard to find a crack in these white-washed walls. Splendor Squalor may not be the boldest record of the year, but it’s a solid listen for anyone who loves a good old-fashioned stomp-and-jangle.