Hot Coins The Damage Is Done
There is some common ground covered by Danny Berman's work as Red Rack'em and his latest project, Hot Coins, but they are without a doubt two very distinct efforts, each with its own separate aims and musical guidelines. Unlike the edits and deep-house tunes credited to Red Rack'em, Hot Coins' productions can hardly be considered "dance music"; instead, they take shape as disco-minded excursions into nostalgic avant-pop, pulling inspiration from the post-punk, synth-wave, and experimental disco sounds of the '70s and '80s while attempting to explore a new creative voice.
There are two facts that become fairly obvious as one listens to The Damage Is Done. First, Berman has an affection for the sounds—particularly the synth tones—of those aforementioned eras and genres, one that leads him to appear dedicated to re-enacting them to an admirable degree. The second is that Berman, and perhaps his occasional vocal collaborators, had some "demons" to deal with and this project/record appears to be the vehicle through which they've done that. The songs are not rendered "dark" or even emotional because of this fact though; if anything, the lyrical content catches the listener off guard when phrases such as "Crash and burn every night/Something just don't feel right/My friends think I am stupid/They laugh at me all the time," are delivered in a purposefully monotonous and almost ambiguous fashion above pieces of slightly bubbling music. The seeming opposition between the feeling of the words and the underlying tracks is just one of the ways that The Damage Is Done seems to thrive on bizarreness. At times, the songs can seem as if they are intentionally at odds with themselves, and seemingly clashing musical elements are often juxtaposed against each other. For example, on "The Only Way," a straightforward pattern of kicks and claps and a slow swung bassline are met with flashes of eerie synth pads and a slightly abnormal run of distorted guitar; on "New Beat," a Human League-reminiscent underbelly is topped off with a flurry of fuzzy synth leads and a dubbed-out trumpet. These combinations aren't necessarily jarring, but they can make the listening experience a bit uneasy—which feels like it was likely Berman's desired effect.
Still, most of the cuts on the LP have trouble landing on any ideas that really take hold for an entire song. The uptempo funk of "Freestyle Lover" and the upbeat lounge of "Confined" are initially quite intriguing, but fail to turn into much of anything, while "Leathered" is just a dud, sounding akin to one of Art of Noise's failed experiments. The Damage is Done does deliver a bit of light at the end of the tunnel though, as its final three songs—"Blizzard," "Roadtrip," and "I Ching" (all instrumental)—serve as the record's most fun and enjoyable passage while sinking further into soulful boogie territory than any other portion of the LP. In the end, it's hard to completely knock Berman's desire to expand his creative palette, but, quite frankly, there just isn't much here for anyone who isn't as infatuated with the synthy post-punk, funk, and disco of the '70s and '80s as Berman himself is.
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