There’s been no shortage of cutesy synth-pop bands sprouting up in Portland over the past few years. Wampire is one of them—once a two-piece with a drum machine, they became a power trio three years ago only to recently return to their future-primitive ways. It’s been a long road for core members Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps, who’ve become household names in their hometown (mostly for their sweaty, dance-in-front-of-the-mirror live shows), and they’re finally shimmying their way beyond the Pacific Northwest with their debut full-length for Polyvinyl.
To be fair, Wampire have evolved since forming in 2008, and Curiosity is varied enough to separate them from the rest of the mustache-and-tank top crowd. Plus, as with labelmates and PDX bros STRFKR and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, they know their way around a good hook. It’s nothing revelatory, but it works—with all the right pieces of pop music history in just the right places.
If it were any less ramshackle, Curiosity would be stuffy and boring. Some of the credit for the record’s tweaky freakage should go to producer and UMO member Jacob Portrait, who keeps things properly murky and also helped with some of the arrangements. It’s garage rock that sounds like it was recorded at Studio 54 if it was located in M83. Opener “The Hearse” is a monster mash of psychedelic new wave. It sets the album’s darker tone, which is matched by the explosive guitar wah-wah of “Giants” and the minor-chord synthery of “Outta Money.” The only break in the weather comes on “Trains,” but only musically. “Don’t leave me waiting in the rain,” Tinder pleads, as the object of his affection heads down the tracks.
It’ll be interesting to see how the darker mood of Curiosity translates to the stage. What they’ve gained on record—the weirder textures, the darker, noisier breakdowns—might make it difficult to turn stages into dance clubs. But it’s a fair tradeoff. Besides, nobody moves at shows anymore, anyway, right?