The New York duo give a 21st century twist to new wave with this honed debut
“When the functional technology becomes obsolete, it can then become art,” runs the sample on ‘We Are Obsolete’ that opens the debut album from New York duo The Fantastic Plastics. It would be wrong to suggest that ‘Devolver’ is built up solely from redundant reference points, but in adopting an attitude and an image derived from American new wave artists like Devo and The B-52s, we can certainly make a convincing case for this band sounding retro – or is idolatry and imitation itself a form of modern art?
None of this amateur philosophising actually counts for anything, of course. We’re just talking about a cute sample that happens to deal with the theme of obsolescence. What really matters is that The Fantastic Plastics (Tyson and Miranda) have produced an album that is a huge amount of fun, containing insistent, instantly anthemic tracks that will have you grinning like a loon and pogoing like an anxious Muppet. The pair trade lyrics in that curt, shouty manner that kids are hot for these days, while guitars fizz with a syncopated riffery co-opted from The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’. Synths dominate the foreground with bold ambition and boisterous drums propel the songs forward with unhealthy levels of speed and vibrancy.
If CBGB hadn’t closed its doors and turned into a fashion boutique, The Fantastic Plastics could have become the house band. They uniquely capture the point when new wavers finally sloughed off all but the last vestiges of bratty Ramonesiness that was an essential part of the venue’s legacy. Together, Tyson and Miranda’s vocals have an authentic punk wryness, while their lyrics run the gamut of concerns that nag away at us today: the hollowness of glamour and fame (’It’s All Plastic’), looking perfect (the ironic romanticism of ‘Under The Knife’), surveillance and the loss of personal identity (’Thought Patrol’ and ‘Assimilate’), the mundanity of working like you’re on some vast corporate production line (the joyous standout ‘Overtime!’). Even when they slow things down on the crunch and bleep of ‘Mr Computer’, they’re still openly in thrall to technology albeit just ever so slightly wary.
The Fantastic Plastics have made a name for themselves on the Manhattan and Brooklyn live circuits, and it’s not hard to see how energetic tracks like the irrepressible ‘Troublemaker’ would transfer to the stage. On record, that energy is held in a constant tension between robotic synths and wiry guitars. The sound is honed and carefully sculpted, but injected with just enough chaos and manic, high-velocity shenanigans to make ‘Devolver’ a lasting proposition.
New York’s music scene has always had a canny knack of spitting out bands that meddle with the status quo, feeding off something that has come before while reimagining it for a trend-conscious listening public. The Fantastic Plastics do that extremely well, getting you excited about bands that, for a time, seemed risibly forgettable while still sounding fresh and essential. The new new wave starts here.