XII by Parallels (Marigold Records)
In the first half of the 1980’s kids learned how to play the keyboards and synthesizers of the day, starting their own bands. Listening to such songs as Just Can’t Get Enough, Stand Back and Take My Breath Away, each song has their own charms but it was the early groups like Depeche Mode, Yaz, Bronski Beat, Cabaret Voltaire and Soft Cell amongst many others (not to forget the whole industrial sect) that gave kids the impression that the synthesizer was the instrument to conquer and one that made it clear: anyone can start a band with the minimum of musical education.
Singer Holly Dodson, along with brother and drummer Nick bring us XII, their follow-up to Visionaries, their impressive debut. Gone is co-conspirator and drummer Cameron Findlay of Crystal Castles, enter father Rich Dodson, producer, Marigold Records label owner and member of The Stampeders. A true family affair, Parallels still sounds of a piece with Visionaries: bouncy, shadowy, sensual synthesized pieces backing Holly’s uplifting, breathy voice.
After listening to XII for several weeks now, it becomes apparent the depths of each song. Based on the electronics used in the songs’ creation, it would be easy to dismiss the music of Parallels as vapid and plastic. But there is more to the arrangements, the play of Dodson’s vocal delivery and the darker, sometimes menacing synths that swirl around her seeming innocence. Time Will Crawl has a bouncy beat and open space that lets Holly’s voice shine. When she sings out “Is this Heaven in your eyes?” you’ll swoon over the emotions on display. The vaguely Asian melody and slide guitar synths in the second half add an exotic air to the song too. Canadians all, Parallels show their love for an 80’s favorite as they cover Lawrence Gowan’s Midnight Desires, a more strident, less mystical version of the original, yet charming and fresh nonetheless. Fury on Earth trades cute for sexy and mysterious as shadowy keyboard patterns weave and echo in the background, Dodson purrs “Hold my hands to the light” and “we’re here alone now“. Electrimotion builds on handclaps, thick as London Fog synth fills, rubbery bass, Dodson’s voice soaring to sing crystal clear “to my friends there’ll be a celebration for I’m coming home“. Perhaps the most produced dense song on the album is the closing title track. The song starts out with bell-like keyboards, synths whisper around, another bouncy beat is laid down. Dodson’s breathy delivery barely cuts through the mix, a human component to the machine music.
XII is Holly Dodson’s chance to shine, an often bright, sometimes sexy, always exhilarating listening experience. Where other singers would overproduce the music and vocals to the point of machine-like perfection, Parallels have a refreshingly low-key approach.