World, meet Com Truise. Oh sure, he’s been around for years (since the 2010 release of his Cyanide Sisters EP), but pop culture’s obsession with the 1980s seems to have reached something of a fever pitch in 2017. A lot of the proof is in episodic television: Stranger Things, The Americans and Halt and Catch Fire (as well as the severely underappreciated Red Oaks, which you should add to your Amazon Video watchlist immediately) all pay faithful, loving tribute to the era of pastels, neon and shoulder pads. It’s only natural for this revival to warrant its own soundtrack. You can go crate-digging for all the best classic Depeche Mode LPs, but it’s just as appropriate to check out contemporary artists who are faithfully recreating the era.
Com Truise is the stage name of Seth Haley, the synthesizer manipulator whose three full albums and four EPs helped establish him as a ‘80s revivalist of the highest order. But like the aforementioned television shows, Haley’s love for the genre and period is relatively irony-free. It’s not a coy, satirical wink at a bygone era; his commitment to the aural aesthetic shows a genuine appreciation for a much-maligned genre.
Iteration, Haley’s first full-length album in five years, kicks off with “…Of Your Fake Dimension”, and it’s an appropriately confident opener. A swaggering, synthetic beat runs through the track alongside swooping synth patches that eventually morph into something of an instrumental New Order soundalike with appropriate guitar patches giving the song an uncommon depth that both pays tribute to an earlier era and helps update it. On tracks like “Ephemeron”, Haley shows a knack for reinvention and transformation as a video game-style blip signals a shift near the end of the track, and suddenly the song’s structure is thrown out of whack with dramatic pitch shifts and a disarming dissonance. For someone who is essentially reinventing the classic synthesizer instrumental genre, Haley shows a refreshing restlessness.
Vocal samples eventually make their way into this primarily instrumental venture: “Isostasy” incorporates futuristic spoken work samples among the dramatic keyboard stabs. “When Will You Find the Limit…” ends with a disembodied announcement reminiscent of Kubrick’s HAL 9000. But mostly Haley is content to let the instruments do the talking.
There are moments on Iteration that show an uncommon, almost anachronistic flair for genuine human emotion. “Propagation”, despite the synthetics, comes off as a tender slow jam, sounding like something Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson would dance to at the end of a John Hughes film. “Vacuume” contains the album’s most playful moments, dominated largely by goofy, almost cartoonish synth patches delivered in a hopeful major key.
Other highlights include the jittery, percussive “Syrthio”, the complex, melodically rich “Dryswch”, and the lively robotic funk of “Memory”. Haley injects plenty of hooks and sonic layers on Iteration, but it never seems overstuffed. If anything, he probably holds back more than he should. But it’s all handled with an appropriately deft touch. Haley knows that there is an enthusiastic audience for Reagan-era synths, but it works best in moderation.
Despite the occasional 21st century updates, it’s obvious to Seth Haley that if it ain’t broke, he doesn’t need to fix it. There’s something oddly satisfying about the fact that Com Truise is providing plenty of stuff that sounds like montage music for your favorite ‘80s TV show. It may be purely synthetic, but Iteration is an honest, oddly humanistic new release from an artist with a glorious keyboard arsenal who knows how to use it.