Another Rocktober scene: Two men approach the stage in a tawdry nightclub called Bandcamp, their grizzled, unpreened appearance a cloak of invisibility to the trendy patrons. Only as the PA goes silent does the crowd notice one of the duo opening a guitar case with a Deep Purple sticker. “No classic rock!!” the cry goes out, when suddenly pre-recorded electronic tracks vibrate through the room. Someone points out the music “kind of sounds like Chvrches,” but the discovery doesn’t elicit satisfaction, only puzzlement. The room begins to thin out as the second man, his face framed by long locks and policeman’s moustache, takes the microphone. People flinch in anticipation of an affected southern twang, but his croon is pure, vulnerable, devoid of contrivance. With “Never Got Her Name” he sings to keep a promise — to a lover, and to himself: “Things are changing.”
The protagonists in this imaginary vignette, New Duo are the sound of romantic synth-pop made by unlikely candidates. Frontman Scott Stapleton has logged thousands of miles as a journeyman in Brooklyn-based “American rock” bands like Phosphorescent, Heaven’s Jail, and his own Virgin Forest, while guitarist Matthew Walker previously played in the dream-pop group Dead Dream. Their eponymous debut album is ostensibly situated in the contemporary synthwave sub-genre, but closer listen reveals them to be classic rockers after all. Specifically, New Duo recalls that mid-80s period when charismatic frontmen recorded solo albums of moody, synth-driven rock punctuated by emotive guitar — think Robert Plant’s The Principle of Moments, Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast, Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. On “Nike Air Jordan,” Stapleton’s obsessive vocal fades in and out of a chugging electronic melody, a stylistic nod to electronic music’s old duo, Suicide.
I have no idea where New Duo plan to take this excellent collaboration from here (their publicity is practically non-existent), but their album is recommended listening for late-night headphones and roadtrips.
New Duo is out now on Bandcamp.