The silly title of Eponymous, the debut album from Roberts & Lord, suggests the goofy nature of the disc, but it provides some misdirection, too. Rafter Roberts (of Rafter) and Simon Lord (formerly of Simian) have created an album with plenty of surface play, but that facade hides more serious lyrical consideration.
The sound of the album itself doesn’t suggest anything somber. Roberts crafts his pop songs in a fuzzy electro, typically a few bounces short of the dancefloor but geared up for a fun time. Tracks like “wild berries” push into soul territory, aided by the tone of Lord’s vocal delivery.
First single “windmill” epitomizes the approach, even throwing in a ridiculous solo that’s as poorly played as it is good. The track opens with almost a parody of a party anthem: “Wave your arms like a windmill / Don’t just sit there like a piece of roadkill.” Even so, the moment’s infectious, and it’s a reminder that the cut should be part of a good time, which includes humor.
Opener “mosquito” seems like a similar sort of song. A casual listen suggests that its an ode to the titular bug, especially considering the explicit influence of nonsense poetry on that duo. The chorus seems like a joke at first, with the singer asking the mosquito to stay, adding, “You carry the blood of my love.” As the song progresses, though, the singer reveals that his love is a woman who’s “gone.” The song changes from a fun party track to a haunted piece of pop, a lover’s coming unhinged, using the mosquito “dancing” in his ear to stay connected to a departed beloved.
That track’s a little unnerving (thematically and sonically similar to some of Jookabox’s recent work), but the duo’s ability to hide the serious in the silly isn’t limited to such somber songs. The love song “knots” makes a joke out of desire. Lyrics like “I want to…paint your eyelids and pull your toes” mock this style of song, but the singer can’t keep an honest love out of his ramble, adding, “I want to cover my memories with you.” The track becomes honest not under its humor, but within it. These feelings are ridiculous, but the pair hints at both their value and inexpressibility by approaching that mix directly. The combination of moods leads to a place that’s secretly moving without even approaching cloying.
Depths hide in both the party music and the comic lyrics, but Roberts & Lord don’t limit themselves to formula. “we rise, we fall” continually expands its content, discussing a natural flux not just in personal situations, but also in nature and in society. And bowling balls. The constant twists keep surprise in each track. The first spin is a good time, and the next spins are revelations.
Single “oblique” has the right idea. Approaching something directly can make it too easy, but staying isolated can lead to ephemerality. The singer says over echoing percussion, “Oblique is the way I love,” and it seems like Roberts & Lord understand that attitude to be a fine way to write their music.