Chapel Hill’s Body Games release their debut LP, Damager, this week. I’ll admit from the start that I buy & listen to very little of the type of electronic pop mixes that Body Games creates. If you couldn’t already tell reading this blog, I’m generally a guitar, indie, indie-pop guy. Hell, I may not have even gone to see Body Games my first time were it not for a friend being in the band. But immediately upon seeing them live, Body Games won me over (for me to say that about an electronic-heavy band means something).
And it wasn’t just the stunning, synchronized visuals, courtesy band member Adam Graetz (thefacesblur). They’re always a treat. But it takes more than fireworks to impress this jaded soul (after all, my old zine was called “It’s the music, Stupid!). Body Games’ live production is amazing. Dense and melodic, the music radiates a hypnotic atmosphere, and you submit to a dark undercurrent. Listening to the new album, I’m even more impressed by the layering and complexity brought to the live set. But it’s not just layers for layers’ sake. Its interesting mixes, and the catchy melodies of Dax Beaton’s songwriting. Original, catchy melodies are all-too-rare in this genre (they’re usually sampled from some other, better songwriter).
Right from Sunny Day, the first cut, we get the unexpected… South African vocals (Ladysmith Black Mambazo?) put through a deep filter, sounding as though they’re gurgling up from a deep ocean trench. This jumps suddenly into a slow beat and a mellow-staccato verse from Beaton, and eventually morphs into grinding synth and a sinister-sounding refrain (“Come on, BOY!”).
The entire record inhabits this shadowy-sexy groove. On WMN, rhymes by local rapper WELL$ contrast with band member Kate Thompson’s heavenly vocals for a nice edge. Body Games always shines when Thompson sings (she’s since moved, but hopefully, can telecommute her voice from South Korea!). Matchstick is pure slow-groove, lover-boy pop, with Beaton auto-tuning “Every king needs a queen” to soft keys. It’s probably the most straight-forward ballad on the record, and likely to be a crowd favorite. Outdone treads similar slow-dance territory.
After Matchstick, Damager returns to the mysterious, with the title song’s dreamy (nightmarish, really) intro. It’s a heavier tune, but still one with a hefty dose of melody. Gossip has similar dense vibe… distorted, wasp-like, voices humming in and out between more standard vocals. Special gets very dark indeed. Musings on an old relationship segue into heart-wrenching voicemails from a jilted lover. A warped sample turns the Beach Boys' Nobody Knows What I'd Be Without You on its head, meshing with Special’s exploration of how complicated and hurtful relationships can be.
The last two songs, the quietly upbeat Silent Movie and the sadder Perfume, creatively incorporate more sampling... South African, again, and Blondie’s Heart of Glass, respectively. But Body Games never relies on these samples; they’re always accents on already-fleshed-out songs. Truth in any genre (whether a loner on a laptop or a baker’s dozen with horns, strings, and backup singers): start with good songs, and the rest will take care of itself. Body Games starts with good songs.
Body Games’ next show is at the always-great Phuzz Phest in Winston Salem, Saturday, April 16th. While the LP is out March 15th, a second version called Damager+, including bonus tracks, will also be available. Extra proceeds from that version will be donated to Janice O'Leary's recovery fund (she designed the artwork for the record, and was recently in a serious car accident).