Operators’ Blue Wave takes place at night. That much is clear from the gothic, cavernous opener “Rome.” From the start, Operators forge an atmosphere that is at once dangerous and urgent, but irresistibly seductive. You can’t help but lace up your high tops and step into the neon world they’ve created.
The side project of Dan Boeckner, co-frontman of the recently reformed Wolf Parade; Operators’ debut full-length album is a natural successor to their previous release, adding lush synths and soaring choruses to the driving electro-pop of 2014’s EP1.
The conceptual night continues with “Control”, featuring a synth intro reminiscent of Wolf Parade at their best, before unleashing a pulsating four-on-the-floor lament about someone just trying to keep it together. The album’s highlight, “Cold Light” is an example of pop pandering at its finest: open with the most indulgent lyric this side of FM radio (“Put your heart in the hands of the city”) take some “Disintegration”-era The Cure guitar tones, and sprinkle in some synth lines courtesy of tour-mates Future Islands. But the result is so pleasing that you start to question the line between derivation and homage.
The explicit lack of experimentation weighs on the listener however, and by the time you reach the forgettable “Bring Me The Head” you realize that the last four tracks have blended together into a monstrously distilled LCD Soundsystem pastiche, and you start to wonder if Operators’ creativity was stifled in favor of accessibility.
Luckily, unapologetically New Wave “Nobody” and West Coast-meets-Manchester “Evil” jolt you back into the space between your headphones just in time for emotional closer “Space Needle”, which could be a spiritual sequel to Wolf Parade’s “Same Ghost Every Night”, right down to the melody.
In the end, what makes Blue Wave a worthy listen is the glimpses of humanity that peek through its glossy sheen. The album has a raw intensity that is often lacking in current dance music, no doubt a product of Boeckner’s mid 2000s indie rock pedigree. Blue Wave highlights the best of Dan Boeckner as a songwriter and lyricist, and only makes the anticipation for a new Wolf Parade release even greater.