Superorganism: Chatroom pop with heart

Image: Superorganism via Facebook.

Author: Paul Macadam

Album review – Superorganism, Self-Titled.

Loads of like-minded people meet online. Few have already formed a band by the time they meet in person. The eight slices of the Superorganism pizza originate from South Korea, England, Japan via New England, Sydney and Wellington. Some connections were made via a prior band called The Eversons, others through music forums, even one who discovered The Eversons through a YouTube recommendation. But their unique origin story would be a footnote if the tunes weren’t much chop, and contained within are ten full of melodic vigour and stylistic invention.

The aforementioned forums may well have helped make Superorganism something of a rarity: a pop band whose members actually talk and think about pop music. Key to any pop music is the element of the unexpected. Throughout the album runs a spirit of curiosity not only for what should happen next, but for what could happen next. The production is marked by a what-does-this-button-do sense of wonder paired with an appreciation of space and texture. Songs are frequently punctuated by one-beat / half-beat pauses that speak to the fragmented focus with which we now navigate our leisure time. When not left blank, these gaps are filled by the crackle of soft drink cans opening, apples being bitten, and sneezes that segue into explosions. The result is an amusing portrait of our nine-tabs-open-at-once browsing habits. It’s not an atmosphere confined to the online realm, though – chirping birds are a motif designed to draw your thoughts back outdoors.

All this would feel hollow without the songs to support it, and they more than hold their own. Even while embracing sensory overload as a virtue, simplicity is valued above all. Hummable hooks are in generous supply, yet most could be played on a keyboard with minimal hand movement. The title track is awash with woozy guitar chords and piercing synths, but set the track speed to x1.25 and you’ll see where the Katy Perry influence comes in. Little bits of ingenuity can be found everywhere you look. Few songs include a bridge, and for once, you aren’t wishing they did. ‘Nobody Cares’ doesn’t have a conventional chorus, nor does it need one. The word ‘cares’ is looped until it loses all its usual associations, with an expectant fifth chord left unresolved for almost as long as an entire verse. Anxieties about inadequacy mused on during those verses melt away, and for a moment, the wider world’s indifference to your hang-ups looks you in the eye.

Up to this point I’ve not mentioned any band members individually; most go by pseudonyms, in keeping with the chatroom vibe. One who prefers not to is lead singer, Orono Noguchi. Blessed with the ability to make melodies tell stories, her modest vocal range and laid-back delivery make the perfect foil for the hyperactivity surrounding her. But to lash the slacker label around would be a lazy misreading; beneath the Daria deadpan lies a lot of warmth. Her contributions to ‘Reflections on the Screen’ explore what it means to know someone when as much of your interaction occurs from a distance as in person. Play it for your aunt who insists that kids these days just don’t talk to each other. She’s got a conscience, too – ‘The Prawn Song’ ridicules the anthropocentric mentality which has us well on track for environmental oblivion if we don’t get there by other means first. It could be fun over the next few years hearing 90s music interpreted by those who weren’t alive at the time. Try substituting Prawn’s ‘Have you ever’s for ‘Never ever’s for a sample of what that might be like.

Back to the title track, which could well be a theme tune such is its aptness in terms of how Superorganism operate. ‘Everything is better when you’re everything’, Noguchi declares. It’s a call for the rejection of individualism at a point in history where its promises are wearing thin; hinting that it’s more fulfilling – and more fun – to pursue something collectively. The quoted line doubles as a slogan befitting a group with no interest in adhering to indie’s self-imposed genre restrictions. In their eyes, it’s all pop at heart provided it sticks in your ear and doesn’t outstay its welcome. They’re not wrong, and might as well persist with that philosophy while it’s facilitating work this fresh and joyous.

 

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