Two Not-So-Dumb MenBy: Marcelo Báez
On their website, Spaniards Hidrogenesse describe themselves as an “electronic art-rock duo,” and it’s right on the money. For over 15 years they have been producing some great unorthodox pop, and doing so has earned them the respect of the most embittered music nerds on the Web. The band’s last LP was 2012’s Un Dígito Binario Dudoso, which was inspired by Alan Turing, though they also released a few random singles in 2013. Now they’re back with Roma, “Just like the city,” says their quirky Spotify ad, and it features 10 new songs.
That same ad says some of Roma’s songs are “solemn,” while others are “comical,” which is something that can be said about everything Hidrogenesse has ever put out. The band’s ability to carefully juggle humor, irony and tragedy is one of their biggest attributes, and thankfully that witty weirdness remains intact on Roma. Take “Elizabeth Taylor,” for example, a song about how the legendary actress outlived her pets, husbands, kids and even her harshest critics. The premise might seem morbid but, through the use of good storytelling and catchy, frantic programming, Hidrogenesse makes it work.
“Dos Tontos Muy Tontos” and “Siglo XIX” are particularly good examples of Genís Segarra’s skills as a composer, but they also highlight his impressive knowledge of analog synthesizers. Sweeps, leads, pads, ARPs, phasers, vocoders—all carefully selected and masterfully implemented. No, kids, you’ll never catch Genis using a stock preset sound of some crummy VST plug-in. Analog purists rejoice but, also, someone get Roma to Giorgio Moroder right now and watch his mind be blown.
There’s an interesting departure from the signature Hidrogenesse sound on “El Hombre de Barro,” the album’s first single. The synths and pianos are there, but the track is glitchier. The duo previously experimented with that same aesthetic on their previous album’s title track, “Dígito Binario Dudoso,” but the result is not as strong on Roma. It’s still mysterious and playful—much like the band itself—but almost any one of the other nine songs would have made better singles. Case in point: “That International Rumor,” an upbeat dance number recorded in collaboration with Joel Gibb and one of the best songs on Roma. It’s scattered bleeps and samples, plus an interesting back-and-forth between Gibb and Carlos Ballesteros make it Roma’s best punch.
Unlike Un Dígito Binario Dudoso, which didn’t quite feel like a follow-up to Animalitos or Bestiola (probably because it wasn’t supposed to be), Roma’s sound and fun, upbeat songs will sit a lot more comfortably in the palette of most Hidrogenesse fans and any newcomers to the party.
LOGISTICS: Listen to Hidrogenesse’s Roma here