With seven songs, Planet 1999’s first EP Devotion clocks in just shy of 16 minutes. Shy is a pretty apt way to describe the sounds they explore on the EP, though it isn’t without a burgeoning sense of identity. As pop deconstructionist collective PC Music’s first band, Planet 1999 are tasked with defining themselves through their influences throughout pop and alternative rock history.
Each member of the PC Music retinue is responsible for their specific niche, their own dissertation-like exploration of a highly curated mainstream noise. It’s what defines the label not only as a group of contemporaries, but as a brand—there is an undeniable “feel” to the product PC Music delivers, plastic-y and unified. Hannah Diamond, a key labelmate on PC Music, toys with the insincerity and artifice of early 2000s pop acts, while GFOTY, a fellow label pop singer, toys with plastic noise and the vocal power of diva legends such as Celine Dion and Toni Braxton. These two acts are produced with a careful hand so that there is no overlap between them, but form a more global understanding of the musical forces that bind them to the label.
Planet 1999’s skew is just a bit different, but to no less effect. As opposed to the hyper-realized fare the label has put out over the last few years, Planet 1999 are allowed to be a little messier, to have holes in their sonic structures.
Their influences can be pinpointed plainly on lead single “Spell,” their first release as a band. Half 3D sound collage and half shoegaze, the track has an exploratory sound that, ultimately, doesn’t expand as it might in a typical pop song. Instead, it’s an experiment in texture, uniquely youthful in its showcase of Caro’s flickering voice, immersive in the environment the group sets out to create. There’s an obvious connection to legendary Cocteau Twins lead singer Elizabeth Fraser, with her lyricless emphasis on emotional tonality. But in comparison to the confident sound of Fraser’s flourishing soprano, Caro’s voice sounds as though it’s still in development.
That’s what’s so wonderful about the EP—there’s a tender enthusiasm to Planet 1999’s sound, and each track sounds like a gradual growth of identity. Yes, they like Galaxie 500. They also like Neu!, Broadcast, Boards of Canada and Robyn. It’s easy to see what Planet 1999 listens to, but the individual sounds they rip, blend and reinterpret are what creates the aural wonderland they frolic through. Their sound may still be emerging, but you have to commend the group for managing to gesture to sincere wordless sentiments in such a short amount of time.
Each of Devotion’s songs are under three minutes, and intentionally so. It gives the band just enough time to form a conscious musical thought and end right as any other song might delve into a bridge, meaning the tracks lack the kind of glue necessary to create a full-on anthem. “Party,” for example, is named as such “because that’s what [Planet 1999] heard when [they] were working on the demo.” With its honey-sweet keys and its simple, looping midi drums, “Party” sounds as if Asobi Seksu, in their early years, dove headfirst into the U.K. electronic scene.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss their songs without mentioning the emotion that is so plainly interwoven into each. “Haze,” a cavernous, IDM interlude à la Seefeel’s “Charlotte’s Mouth,” leads directly into “Night,” a nod to Beach House’s melancholy (maybe they were listening to Devotion at the time). “Night,” with its twinkling guitar and void-like synth, is a blurry club come-down, the most mature and reflective track of Devotion’s offerings.
Despite being on PC Music, Planet 1999, perhaps to their credit, produce honest music and are unafraid to be radically vulnerable. Their closest contemporary might be London’s Tirzah (whose debut album was also titled Devotion—is this the holy trinity of vapory emotion?), who similarly understands the importance of direct communication and plain statements of emotion. Today’s cultural landscape may decry music not yet despoiled by corruption and cynicism, but acts like Planet 1999 are more vital than ever. They’re a reminder to connect, unambiguously, to the often glassy, always bright emotions we fail to nurture.