There’s a sweet spot in modern electronic music between EDM and new wave, where the beats and lyrics just seem to melt together into a perfectly listenable package. On Maxchalant‘s self-titled debut full-length, that spot is exactly where the duo is hitting. Comprised of vocalist Griffin Johnston and producer Beau Weiss, the pair has been plugging away at this project for a couple years, and the resulting work is worth the wait.
An initial run through of the 11-track album shows off the duo’s unique take on obvious 80s influences, mixed with a distinctly Seattle hip-hop flavor. But on subsequent listens, there’s much more here to dig into. From the opening under-two-minute track “Signs,” a mostly instrumental track that introduces the dark, glitchy electro-pop landscape, to the dark wave closing of “What’s Next,” the album captures a plethora of thoughtful production.
Johnston’s vocals are clearly walking the line between new wave and hip-hop throughout the album. “Light the Match” is a twitchy, head-nodding gem with more of a sing-song chorus. The video they just released for it (Johnston is also a photographer and director) is, according to his Instagram, “basically like if Twin Peaks and Stranger Things had a baby. Perfect for Halloween.”
On the clever “Hypercolor,” we are treated to an airy melody. A crashing beat contrasts with the synthy, sweeping backdrop. It’s an almost rubbery, underwater spin. Weiss’s womblike production skills are on point. The most obvious 80s new wave reference on the album, we premiered the duo’s video for “Run, Run, Run” last summer. The uptempo beat changes the pace as you hit the middle of the album.
On “Elevate,” guest vocals from Carol Kozovits and Murder Dice — one half of Seattle’s favorite party rappers Slow Dance — add more lyrical texture to the horns and hi-hats. They keep the local guests coming with Sol, another lauded Seattle rapper, on “Before Sunrise.” Rhymes speak to an ill-fated night of lust and longing, and dancing til the last call. There are name drops to both “Darling Nikki” and Beetlejuice. It feels exactly like it should, a come down from a night out of control.
“Psycho Psycho” then swerves into darker electronic territory, an appropriate cross between the dance floor and an insane asylum. It’s followed by “Crazy Eyes,” again featuring guest vocalist Carol Kozovits. Deep horns, horror movie sound effects, and that signature drumline hi-hat push the track into Macklemore & Ryan Lewis territory. “Cut Ties” is a nice transition from the upbeat middle of the album to the wavier end. “We Sync” is a sparse soundscape with barely-there vocals that falls into bedroom jam territory. Weiss’s production skills show without distraction on this almost orchestral arrangement.
They nicely close out the album with the open-ended question of “What’s Next,” and that’s exactly what we can all look forward to.
(Maxchalant is available for purchase through iTunes, and can be streamed in its entirety either on Spotify or through Maxchalant’s SoundCloud. Watch the music video for “Light the Match” below via YouTube.)