Buildings and Food Makes the Retro Sound New Again on 'Up Down Strange Charm'

BY John AmenPublished Sep 24, 2020

Jen K. Wilson, a.k.a. Buildings and Food, hones the synth-y instrumentals and avant pop heard on her prior album, 2018's Quick Beat Save. The result is a set of retro yet voguish compositions and hook-infused songs, Wilson's stoic, sirenic voice reminiscent of Broadcast's Trish Keenan.

Up Down Strange Charm's "FM a.m." and "Stretched to Our Thoughts" feature vintage Casio-sounding synthesizers and primitive beats, the latter defined by a fetching refrain. On one hand, the pieces occur as background music, ideal to bob along to while, say, stoned and cleaning the house. On the other hand, there's a complexly bright tone to these compositions, a balance of casual performances and elegant production that warrants more focused attention.

With "Streetlights," Wilson navigates a hip hybridization of dream pop and electronica, a song that might accompany the credits for a melancholy film à clef that closes with a happy ending. "Swimming in Denton" opens with a mix of melodic synths and roily beats, Wilson's vocal moodier, bathed in reverb, a blend of shoegaze-y pop à la I Break Horses and sultry textures reminiscent of Vanishing Twin. "DdNt" is a spacious ambient composition replete with an echoing mix of mumbled phrases and distorted accents, a track one might hear playing at high volume in a West Village boutique store. "The Shape of Ossington" is the album's longest and most adventurous piece, featuring beat loops and sprawling synthscapes that bring to mind Kraftwerk or early Daft Punk.

Up Down Strange Charm makes use of two templates. Or, more accurately, a template and a half: catchy, synth-y, fluid instrumentals, some with seductive vocals and some without. The album employs a narrow palette and yet remains engaging for its eight-track entirety. While Wilson doesn't cover a great deal of territory here, what she undertakes she accomplishes with confidence, resourcefulness and a signature flair.

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