With a synth pop discourse that spanned nearly two decades, Rational Youth are inarguably one of Canada's great electronic music stories of the last century. Emerging onto the scene in 1981 with their cult hit "I Want To See The Light," they subsequently amassed an impressive discography and collected a loyal audience before taking a hiatus in 1999. "Future Past Tense" represents the first new Rational Youth recordings since that break, and is an apropos title for the six song 10" that not only revisits the sensibility of the band's early efforts, but brings along a social awareness of today's politically polarized climate.
The brain child of front man and provocateur Tracy Howe, Rational Youth's core work has always projected a unique intimacy of the analogue relationship between humans and developing technologies. Now seventeen years removed, Howe has chosen to say something about how it feels to live in a world where destructive contingencies seize unearned power for the purpose of greed, and then manipulates the narrative to make it look like those who would oppose them are radical in nature. For this effort he collaborates with his wife Gaenor Howe, as the two of them place themselves as counter balancing petitioners for a better tomorrow on what would seem an insurmountably corrupt and foreboding landscape.
Musically built on a synth pop foundation that references the genre's infancy, "Future Past Tense" consist of vehicles that are melodic and skillfully crafted. Interlaced sequences, nimble arpeggiations, and lush decaying synth textures construct a compositionally strong backdrop for the duo's anthemic vocals and their message. Sonically sounding like they have popped out of a time warp, elements of early minimal synth pop and Blitz era New Romanticism take the listener back to a stylistic point in history when many of the conservative "think tank" strategies that these songs comment on were formed.
Leading the way is "This Side of the Boarder," the disc opener that takes a swipe at the hopelessly deadlocked state of politics in the U.S. with lyrical references to the self entitlement of old money and its romanticizing of the "the good old days" as a way to galvanize support for archaic social policies that appeal to less informed voters. Offering hope that on the Canadian side of the border there are forces that may act as a catalyst for change, "This Side of the Boarder" is not only poignant, but ironically becomes one of those forces itself.
Continuing with the theme of coming hard at those who are primarily motivated by the pursuit of wealth, "Western Man," exploits the character flaws of Wall Street greed and its self righteousness, while "In the Future" opines on how the benefits of technology are being undone by the "pathology" of the rich. Topical and current, the two cuts are socially relevant yet have the audio earmarks of the first Visage album.
The B-side of the disc is no less effective at translating the consciousness of contemporary futility, but carries out the task by aiming inward with three heartfelt and reflective songs. With a demeanor uncannily straight out of the visionary world of the New Wave, both "Here It Comes Again" and "Prison of Flesh" would have been big hits had they been released in the 80's. In fact its safe to say any one of these six songs could have been an "A" side to a single release during that decade. Finding their roots where the definition of synth pop came from, they are quintessential archetypes, authentic, and often expressing a timeless youthful perspective paired with a sophisticated worldliness.
Bringing the EP to a notable end is a powerful cover version of Psyche's "Unveiling the Secret." Branding it as danceable would be an understatement, as the thumping bass drum, pulsating bass synth, and captivating keyboard riff work together to create an inescapably infectious result. Add some artful vocals and their effects and you have one pretty impressive piece electronic music composition. No doubt there is a 12" club mix hiding in those grooves somewhere.
With "Future Past Tense" Rational Youth have somehow created a set of comeback recordings accomplishing the mission to recapture the spark that made them magical in their heyday. In doing so, they have expanded their territory as social commentators by questioning, agitating, and pushing the boundaries of today's political dialogue. Pretty lofty stuff for synth pop, the work is so well executed one never gets the sense of disingenuous or self-serving protest, but rather a passionate and rational plea for the common good.
Artist Link: http://www.rationalyouth.org