here is a feeling that emerges throughout Hekan Lidbo’s debut album under the Data 80 moniker that if performative musical masculinity was not entirely wrapped up in the guitar mythologizing of Elvis Presley and the Beatles and had remained with the ecstatic piano playing of people like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard that this album might be regarded as a normal artifact, something that didn’t sound like it was hearkening back to a specific time period- and was rather the logical progression of a musical heritage. But we don’t live in that world. And Data 80 does have specific reference points in the past that transport towards certain memories, allowing critics and listeners to label Lidbo’s album as kitsch or retro.
More correctly, however, the album is an enactment of the counter-narrative started by synth-pop pioneers. Working within this idiom, the first third of Data 80 is a masterpiece. Each song is a confectionary pop gem, full of overflowing synth lines and the vocoded Lidbo, repeating simple declarations such as “I will never forget.” The effect of this four song mix is to induce expectations for the rest of the album to be more of the same upbeat dance tracks that color its early moments. Much like the early promise of Soft Pink Truth’s Do You Party?, however, Data 80 loses the plot towards constructing a hedonistic party jam and tones down the album for an extended period after “Love Was Made For Two.”
When Lidbo switches from the complex pop of the earlier songs to a more spacious and less taut sound, the album suffers. In the presence of a more down-tempo mood, the variety is a welcome respite from the almost overbearing nature of the early tracks. The diversification that Lidbo allows within this context, however- more spacious Italo Disco inflected, rather than say straight techno or even house- is cursory at best. But this is exactly the point of Data 80’s counter-narrative. Far too often, little question is waged against the folk artist who mines the acoustic guitar and its ability to evoke feeling. Why can the same not be true of the synthesizer and the reuse of the same sounds over and over in different contexts? When the track simply does not work as well as the last. And the energy flash and giddy optimism from the beginning is lost by the end of the album- when “Don’t Believe Me” enters the fray as a last ditch effort to save the flagging ship, it simply seems like too little, too late.
But the same could be said for most any folk album mining the same territory over and over with slight variation: a lauding of the tracks that excite and the complaint that the entire album should sound like them- and only them. Let us celebrate, then, the beautiful moments of this album and forget the rest. AFter all, what else is hedonism for?