Pop’s fairer image

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  December 4, 2007

Then I was concerned he might be going on some serious Grand Funk Railroad kick. Now I believe he was simply authorizing himself to take some risks with electropop, a genre that tends to be more provocateur than pioneer, and where abandon often gets stuck in a loop. Liberating pop from laziness just sounds American, so he made a good point with that swimsuit purchase. He took to opening every show with the national anthem and ending it in nothing but the stars and stripes.

On the surface, the Mirrors’ songs recall familiar names like Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, and Giorgio Moroder — but there’s a bit more compositional adventure here. The elegant chord changes and catchy 13-bar choruses are conspicuous enough, and Bluhm’s lyrics are a lot more engaging than what you usually get in the clubs — you can even make out what he’s singing. But it’s in the newly cemented membership of the band — originally a duo as Cassette — that the music has taken full form.

Founding Cassette member Michael Potvin’s approach to synth-pop has never been standard issue. Potvin’s facility with filters, the waves that fly through them, and pretty much anything controlled by a knob has always ensured that there’s something live happening — even in the band’s two-piece days, when the risk of karaoke was high. He’s the producer of the crew, so his role with sound is curatorial, and he’s not afraid to get a little chaotic and dirty, often in artfully harsh relief with Bluhm’s sure croon. Keyboardist Joseph Wawrzyn (of the Westward Trail) lays out soft sheets of sound and tosses on little melodic sequins. And it’s hard to convey just how much Patrick Dole’s bass has sweetened the deal, a hybrid of smooth R&B and smoother disco that makes me think of Sade, though I know Bluhm would smack me for saying so.

Then there’s the drummer, an MPC2000XL. “I just don’t think I can hear myself enough over real drums anymore,” he explains. “And the MPC can stay up as long as I do.”

The filled-out Fantasy Mirrors have worked wonders on older tracks, like the local favorite “Premature Baby” and the recent gem “Human Beings” — perhaps the greatest pop song ever to use the phrase “lovey dovey doo.” And their suite of songs loosely based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has re-emerged with a stunning (and surprising) new gravitas. But if “Quiet Corner” is any indication, Fantasy Mirrors are a band reborn — creative enough to stay confident, but never content to stay comfortable.

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