Stephin Merritt has released his second full-length album in collaboration with Christopher Ewen as the Future Bible Heroes, and it's exactly the sort of electronic pop extravaganza you were expecting. Unless, of course, you were expecting 69 more love songs. In that case, you'll have to wait.
Future Bible Heroes makes the sort of warm, romantic, lush synth-pop that -- once upon a time -- would have been filed next to Yaz and Alphaville in the tear-stained diaries of 1986. The enveloping production bubbles in bright shades but provides a none-too-cluttered backdrop for vocalist Claudia Gonson to add her suitably monotone yet expressive vocals. Fans of Merritt's songwriting will instantly lean toward the lull and brilliance of seemingly simple pop tracks like "Losing Your Affection" and "Smash the Beauty Machine," two tracks that manage to betray their electronic trappings and soar off into less-charted zones.
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Given that Future Bible Heroes uses a singular approach (synth gurgle with a few Martin Denny percussive tricks), the group has trouble delivering the same emotional resonance that is found in both the Magnetic Fields and the 6ths -- two Merritt-based groups whose variety in approach is part of the allure. That said, Eternal Youth is still a marvel of songwriting and synthetic arrangements -- at times coming across as the sonic equivalent of Depeche Mode's Some Great Reward as interpreted by Mouse on Mars. There's something to be said for an album that manages to bleed sincerity from behind the often irony-laced curtain of electropop