Moving forward takes change. Luckily for indie synth pop fans, Jed Murphy did just that. He stepped down as editor of BandWagon Magazine, fell in love, moved to a different city and extinguished the torch he held for his band Futurebabes. Kind of. Bringing his girlfriend, vocalist, keyboardist and designer (yes, your band needs a designer) Kayna Hobbs into the creative fold, the two re-branded as DEBR4H, surprise-releasing their debut EP Taipei Rock City.
8-Bit Nintendo pings of arpeggiated triplets kick off the record at a head-bobbing clip in “Lit Cigarette.” The vintage uptempo precision is reminiscent of Devo beneath Jed Murphy’s Morrissey-esque vocal glissandos, landing the band’s sound squarely in The Strokes territory. It makes sense, as Taipei Rock City was co-produced by Murphy and Slow Caves’ Oliver Mueller, who happens to do a killer Julian Casablancas impersonation.
“Ronnie4Real” takes the tempo down a click and boosts the mood to steamy, evoking Tokyo street lights via dreamy synth pads. Think M83 or “A Real Hero” from the Drive soundtrack and you’ll feel the glow of this, arguably the EP’s top cut. “You were in a dream I had – we were falling, falling fast. Life just falls apart sometimes. Where do I go? Where is my dream,” Murphy expounds. A thesis statement for this period in his musical path.
The title track has the audacity to straight-up steal Guns N’ Roses lyrics – trust us, you’ll know – a nod to DEBR4H’s freedom of experimentation. “Spreadsheets” throws some electric guitar riffing via Jakob Mueller into the nerd-pop blend, channeling “Machinery” by Ash. Murphy expounds: “Where do you go when the mystery fades? Where do you go when it all becomes the same?”
In the EP’s closer “Eleanor,” Hobbs’ breathy vocals are highlighted, offering a welcome layer of production but moreover a look at the former Futurebabes’ new direction: partnership. “You’ll take space and I’ll take time” Murphy sings in the EP’s most poetic moment.
Taipei Rock City is an experiment of combinations built on the joy of taking risks, from mashing-up gameboy sounds with vocal croon to melding romantic relations with a band partnership. The whole concept seems to be about new chapters and leaps of faith. Ditching the old name and adding love to the synth-y mix has flung DEBR4H even further into the future.