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31 August 2015

Game Theory - 'Real Nighttime' (Enigma)

Sometimes I feel like this is Game Theory's best record. It has a nice, full 80's pop production and a lot of guitars, and Miller's voice is given the right about of reverb and compression to make it really soar over these songs. And lyrically it also might have the right balance of the cryptic and relatable, though I like his more experimental verbal constructions. The text on the back cover is cryptic and feels like an Arno Schmidt translation, but the songs inside are only halfway there - 'She'll Be a Verb' is actually a fairly straight love song (if a slightly wistful one); '24' captures the confusion of maturity with no relation to the Red House Painters song of the same name. If you've ever read Miller's excellent book Music: What happened? you'll know he was heavily influenced by the dBs and Chris Stamey in particular; you can hear this influence probably most thoroughly on Real Nighttime of all his records, both in terms of melodic construction and the affect of his singing. Chilton and Big Star too, with 'You Can't Have Me' getting a cover version, though I'm not wild about this take, which seems to remove the pain from Chilton's delivery. The violent overtones of 'Friend of the Family' are echoed in the very punchy drum recording technique, a stomper that opens up in the chorus and is probably the best song on the record. But that's not discounting the brash opener '24', or the sinewy, chorus-laden riff of 'Curse of the Frontier Land'. The latter ambiguously questions success in the music industry or maybe it's just California he's talking about; either way, it's drenched in the imagery of decay and sadness, and odd and moving juxtaposition against Miller's youth-infused voice. You could argue this is almost overproduced, with phase and flange effects on the lead guitars, and keyboards pulsing in the corners of the mix. But I think it works really well. The concise 'I Turned Her Away' closes things out, and there's such a joyous feeling to this record that it makes me really sad Miller has left this earth. But there's even wilder frontiers ahead....

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