downtalker – All My Friends Are Dead / Watch Your Heart Break

Billed as a “post-punk disco project”, Boston’s downtalker (always credited in a lower case) bring retro sounds of a little left of the norm on this double whammy of digital singles. At a time when a lot of the underground seems obsessed with 90s indie and 80s pop, these guys have channelled their inner weirdos to bring you something a little different.

On the brilliant ‘All My Friends Are Dead’, their musical charm results in the greatest Devo homage ever. From the opening jerking rhythm and bleeping synths, their love for Ohio’s most famous sons couldn’t be more obvious, and the arrival of a very affected vocal brings home that influence with even more of an unsubtle wink. Between the mechanised strangeness, you’ll find a great sense of melody, too, of course. The way that bright sounding rhythm guitars shimmer between the sharp edges gives the arrangement a little more humanity, along with a new wave-ish brilliance that sounds as if its been handed down from Andy Summers, whilst a second layer of keys occasionally drops in with a very 80s wash of sound. By the time the robotic elements fall away to reveal a vocal melody slowly building against a softer harmony for an unexpectedly light middle eight, it becomes the kind of track you’ll instinctively love or hate. If you’ve been absorbing various post punk, new wave and arty synth pop sounds since the 80s, there’s every chance you’ll find something here to love.

The rather more slight ‘Watch Your Heart Break’ shows off a different side to the band, yet at the same time, a strangely pointed vocal and concession to great rhythms make it easy to realise the same musicians are responsible. With a slightly more melodic backdrop at their disposal, downtalker pump up the bass, immediately latching on to an obvious disco mood. Fusing that late 70s heartbeat with some rockier guitars and busy keys bolsters a tune that sounds like the mighty Electric Six, whilst a few bigger harmonies lend an unexpectedly gothic tone. Best of all, though, are the moments when the band let go of the groove long enough to allow the keys to rise, and slow indie pop flourishes really bring out a grandiosity, suggesting these musicians aren’t hampered by any boundaries despite their music having a very structured feel.

…And here’s the real kicker. Both of these tracks are linked thematically. ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ is a tribute to the many people lost to addiction, and ‘Watch Your Heart Break’ calls to those who’ve made it through some dark times and are now in recovery. The latter’s choral refrain of “start again and love yourself” is subtle enough to be missed, yet so heartfelt that it gives an already great track a much bigger purpose.

These tunes are seriously great. Detached yet strangely alluring; fun, yet drenched in uncertainty and sadness. They’re the kind of digital singles that deserve to put an underground band very clearly on the radar of those with cool alternative tastes. In short, downtalker offer sounds not to be missed.

September 2023