The problem that I, and a lot of other critics, have with modern electropop doesn’t really have anything to do with the artists responsible for its ongoing success. My issue is that, unlike 2.O.F., so few of the Tim Milliken-collaborative project’s contemporaries inject their music with the unfiltered emotion that we find in records like The Machine, 2.O.F.’s first studio effort. The Machine’s debut single, “Darling Anna,” rebels against the stoic stylization of the minimalist model while chasing after a club beat that can satiate even the most angst-ridden of dancers this summer, and in spite of my distaste for the genre, this track has convinced me that electropop doesn’t always have to be as colorless as its early forerunners made it seem.
“You were there for me / You were there by my side / No one else there to warm me / You were there, my prize” sings the sensitive melodic vocal on the other side of a synthesized groove in “Darling Anna,” every word it serenades us with saturated in an emotive moxie that ensures the very legitimacy of the singer’s verses. Milliken’s poetry at times feels both elegiac and retrospective in nature, but the optimistic melodies in the background keep the song from breaking apart into a straight-up dirge (a feat that deserves recognition on its own).
The vocal is the cherry on top of an already incredible synth arrangement in this track, which, to me at least, is the real meat and potatoes of “Darling Anna.” The synth parts blend a cocktail of 80’s electronica and a more modern, cosmopolitan pop swagger that spells out absolute pleasure for fans of sophisticated electronic textures and tones, and though I originally found “Birthday” to be the most instrumentally powerful song on The Machine, after several careful examinations, this track won the contest by a sliver.
The drums here need a little more volume, especially in the chorus, where their beats are possibly the most critical in the shaping of the rhythm. I don’t fault 2.O.F. for leaving the bittersweet serenade at the top of the mix, but still, it would have been a lot more exciting to hear the percussion climaxing alongside the other elements in the song. The grooves are alluring just the same, and I think that in a live performance, this miniscule speedbump in this studio mix of “Darling Anna” wouldn’t be a problem for the audience (or the band) at all.
I wasn’t familiar with 2.O.F. or Tim Milliken before hearing The Machine for the first time recently, but I’m definitely hooked on the smooth sound of the record’s signature single. There’s so many different ways that Milliken could develop this project further that it seems almost kind of pointless to speculate about the future of 2.O.F. at the moment, but as far as this summer is concerned, there is not a doubt in my mind that “Darling Anna” is among the cream of the crop in its genre. The bottom line in this review? As I learned first-hand, The Machine is a must-listen for both the electropop faithful and the style’s pessimistic critics alike.
by Mindy McCall
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