GeoVoc is a producer from Baltimore, Maryland. His latest full-length, entitled “Behind Closed Doors” was released on September 17th, 2020. It features ten new tracks which follow up a slew of independent singles also released by GeoVoc from July of 2019 to June of 2020.

The cover art for “Behind Closed Doors” hearkens back to the early 2000s where compact discs were starting to go out of style and second hand music stores were all the rage. I remember buying oodles of CDs from random record exchanges that looked just like this cover: worn, scratched all to hell, a little dirty, and overused. I’m not entirely sure what is being depicted here on the cover visually. I feel like the insinuation here is that this particular album has been played quite a bit–perhaps behind closed doors. You know, that place where you can be yourself and cut loose. Just don’t cut loose too much, because there’s always someone watching that might threaten to spill the beans on you when you grow up to become a politician.

The Critique

GeoVoc’s tagline is “A classic but at the same time progressive.” From a musical standpoint, I feel like this is slightly inaccurate in describing how I personally connected with GeoVoc’s sound. Don’t get me wrong, there are qualities about “Behind Closed Doors” that are very retro-esque, but that primarily stems from the album’s production values as opposed to how songs are actually structured. “Foster” and “Addicts” are especially guilty of this. The lead synth line in “Addicts” is straight-up something you would never hear in the 1980s. I think that the most retro sounding vibe achieved here is in the first thirty seconds of “Joys in Disguise” which features a really awesome sounding albeit faded sax sound. As soon as the vocals kick in though it’s back to a very familiar and postmodern staccato vocal cadence in the song’s chorus. The white noise that kicks in during this point in the song doesn’t help it sound very retro at all either, and distracts me from achieving any sense of nostalgia.

From what I can tell, GeoVoc is very much inspired by The Midnight. To be perfectly honest though, I’ve never really done a deep dive into The Midnight. I don’t really want to. They are already widely appreciated. In any case, everything I’ve heard from The Midnight reminds me of modern pop being combined with a retro sensibility. GeoVoc sort of comes from the same school of thought, although I tend to think that GeoVoc leans more heavily in the direction of modern pop.

The energy that GeoVoc’s music gives is very, well, light, albeit in an angsty Anakin Skywalker kind of way. There were times during my sit down with “Behind Closed Doors” that I felt like I was listening to Owl City (see “Foster”). Perhaps this is because the pitch shifting on Geo’s voice is situated similarly to the way Adam Young usually produces his own vocals, but maybe it’s also because both Geo and Adam have a similar vocal style.

I’m going to come out and say that this isn’t the type of music I normally would seek out for myself. I grew up in the mid eighties and early nineties. I vividly remember what things sounded like then, and this is not it. That said, songs like “Revival” almost hit the nostalgic factor for me, however, the song is so incredibly similar Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compare 2 U” (both songs use nearly identical F Major chord progressions and are roughly 120 BPM) that I found myself wanting to listen to that instead.  

In some ways, “Behind Closed Doors” also occasionally comes off as almost borderline inspirational music, especially when you take a closer look at the lyrical content. This is fine, but again, that type of thing isn’t for me. That said, after a quick exchange with GeoVoc I sort of get the picture that his music has more to do with what it means to be spiritually connected to yourself and the people around you. Let me impress that as an artist, GeoVoc, really does care about people. I mean, in the first line of the album he declares that “Everyone means so much to me.” As I begun to listen to “Behind Closed Doors” more, it became glaringly apparent to me that GeoVoc wants to be optimistic so badly, but he finds that point of view rather difficult to navigate amidst the melancholia that constantly seems to be surrounding him.

What I Really Like About “Behind Closed Doors”

Anyone that really knows my taste in music also knows that I prefer music driven by vocals. GeoVoc is an incredibly talented songwriter when it comes to figuring out how to situate his voice within his music. As I’ve mentioned before in my review of YORU 夜’s “Revisit” album, the retrowave scene needs more of this sort of thing. There are far too many artists intentionally choosing to produce instrumental music because of its wide appeal. One of the reasons for it’s appeal is that instrumental music is dehumanizing, and in some ways appear to be without ego or attitude to the listener. I won’t discount the fact that instrumental music has a place, but music that is dehumanized won’t ever be capable of reaching the same heights as an artist who took a risk to get their actual voice out there to be heard. GeoVoc has this courage, in spades. And you know what? He has a really good voice. I think that the vocal performance on “Revival” should’ve been pushed a little farther back into the mix, but generally Geo’s vocals are really well done in a pseudo Matt Bellamy/Adam Young sort of way. “Scars to Heal” and “Consider the Cost” are good examples of this. I particularly enjoy when GeoVoc uses his falsetto. Like seriously, singing like that isn’t easy, with or without a vocoder, so I have to give some kudos to him for taking a risk and executing it wonderfully.

Song wise, the track that stuck out to me most was definitely “Foster.” Despite my manifold critiques of “Foster,” I think that it’s the most original, most heartfelt piece on the album. I like the female voice samples going on in this song. It feels very motherly. The general vibe of this song encapsulates what it means to be little and having no idea about what it means to navigate the uglier world outside of childhood. The piano lines here accentuate the bassy, dreamy vibe with a tenderness that I’m not used to. Honestly, it makes me feel uncomfortable when a song tells me “it’ll be okay,” because I was never told that enough when I was little. It’s a super sad song, that sounds more dreamy than retro, but that’s okay, because it’s pretty damn good.

“Scars to Heal” was my other favorite song from the album. It’s just an all around solid track. Everything is audible, the vocals sit in the mix very well, and their overall performance hits the mark.

In general, the thing that GeoVoc does very well it creating a space where each song sort of just does it’s own thing. Each track on “Behind Closed Doors” is distinctive and different, while maintaining the same energy found throughout the album. I won’t say that this is difficult for an artist to pull off, but I do think that there were a lot of good decisions made in the mix and mastering process that helped “Behind Closed Doors” maintain an across the board loudness keeping each song in line with the others.

Conclusion

While I appreciate the retro production value that GeoVoc tries to implement into his music here, I think that in the future GeoVoc would greatly benefit by shifting from a retro vibe to something more modern and clean. I think that this would serve the music much better than going for a retro sound. This is just me though. As I mentioned before, I must impress that this album isn’t one that was made for my tastes. I do think that a lot of people will really love this album, especially among a younger, less jaded, crowd. This isn’t music made for bony old blood countesses. This is music made for people looking to relax, reflect, and vibe. Seriously, if that’s you, please check “Behind Closed Doors” out. There’s plenty to love here.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of vocally driven Dreamwave looking for a good vibe. Fans of The Midnight might like this too.

STAND-OUT TRACKS: “Foster,” “Scars to Heal,” and “Consider the Cost.”

Album Color Profile: #D4E6F1

You can find all things GeoVoc at https://geovoc.bandcamp.com/

Donor Lens is a post-vaporwave/future-funk duo from the UK featuring the talents of Thom (Love in Dust, Wichita LimeWire) and Jay (Kid Neon, Timeshare 94). On July 31st, they released a proper follow-up to their amazing “Miracle Lounge มิราเคิล เลานจ์,” entitled “Midnight Store” through My Pet Flamingo.

“Midnight Store” has a really sleek look thanks to some wonderful art design by TropicalVirtual. It features an image of a package store that is situated smack dab in the middle of nowhere. The little details in the picture, such as the graffiti, the advertisement for “Viceroy” cigarettes, and even a nod to My Pet Flamingo itself, remind me of the type of thing you might see in a 1990s era first person shooter. I particularly like the trash can. The other thing that stands out in the cover art is the seemingly light barren “loft” sitting above the store. I can’t help but imagine someone sitting in the dark flipping through television channels out of depression, boredom, or because there’s simply nothing better to do.

The overall sound quality of “Midnight Store” is a cut above most Vaporwave that I’ve been exposed to. I would actually be willing to say that “Midnight Store” is as close as we’ll get to what proper Vaporwave would be like if it went into the mainstream. That said, I can’t see that happening, as Vaporwave supplants the “cult of personality” required to succeed in mainstream music’s current environment via weirdness, nightmare fuel, and feels.

Musically, I was really quite surprised to hear a song like “Midnight Store” lead off the album. When I spun “Midnight Store” for the first time, I couldn’t understand where the title track fit in with what the rest of the album is trying to accomplish. For all intents and purposes, “Midnight Store” is a proper song, sans a bridge. Despite it being an outlier on the album, I began to appreciate it more after picking up on its reprise in “Another Night Astray.” Like most artists who experiment in Vaporwave, this reprise did something weird to me. It gave me a mini-nostalgic moment for a new song I just heard. Weird right? Not really. I think this is by design. *slow clap*

Some of my favorite moments on “Midnight Store” come in the form of extended atmospheric jingles. Just having a song title like “Turn the Fridge On” puts certain images into my head. When tied with what Donor Lens is presenting here I didn’t expect the images to be so vivid and on point. This song in particular kept causing me to visualize someone working inside a cold freezer in the backroom of a small grocery store in southern California. This is a good example of what makes this album interesting. Donor Lens excel in creating an imaginary space that comfortably sits right in the liminal space between conscious and unconscious reality.

Other moments that stuck out to me was the enigmatic piano-leaden “One Stop Shop,” the early Apoptygma Berserk sounding “Konbini 24-7,” and the fluorescent light leaden “Aisles and Aisles.” My favorite track on the album undoubtedly goes to “Spirit Receiver (ft. DATAGIRL).” It’s a slow, enlightening, and dare I say, spiritual journey that truly highlights how music can spark authentic emotion within a listener. In general, I think that “Spirit Receiver” is one of the best tracks I’ve heard in all of 2020. While the rest of “Midnight Store” serves its purpose as a tremendous release on its own by combining future funk, chiptune, and Vaporwave together, this track overshadows and transcends all of the songs that come before it on the album. Seriously, check it out. “Spirit Receiver” is PEAK Donor Lens magic.

Album Color Profile: #D4E6F1

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of Vaporwave looking for something a little less nightmarish and something much more focused.

Stand-out tracks: “Spirit Receiver (ft. DATAGIRL),” “Aisles and Aisles,” and “One Stop Shop,” and “Turn the Fridge On.”

You can find all things Donor Lens at: https://mypetflamingo.bandcamp.com/album/midnight-store