Baron's latest EP RadioHeart accomplishes the almost impossible by seeming “retro” without actually conjuring a specific time or genre. It's a grab-bag of electro sounds past. There are bits of early 80s Depeche Mode, late 80s Nine Inch Nails, Old-school Chicago House, Soulsonic Force era Afrika Bambaataa, early 90s Jock Jams pop, and even some awesome touches of mid-90s game music (bonus points if the Purple Motion references were intentional. They totally validate that year when I was 12 and pretty much didn't go outside. Don't judge. You had the same year too.)
The title track joyfully embraces and transcends synth pop cliches. It's that rare song that makes you smile not because it's cheesy, but because it reminds you why some things that have become cheesy were awesome to begin with. It's clear that the pop sounds Baron borrows and mutates are the product of genuine love for the sound. Even when he goes full 90s dance on 'Minutes to Mars' Baron delivers the chorus “you make my love sing” without a trace of irony or detachment. And that sincerity is infectious.
This is music destined for the dance floor, but with a surprising depth of creativity and production. The electrofunk squiggles and punches are dynamic, complimenting Baron's easy flow; equal parts Andre 3000, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Afrika Bambaataa. Baron, an openly gay MC from New York, first burst on the scene in 2004. He has such solid control over his aesthetic that his “stick all electro in a bag, shake, and see what pieces come out” approach is never jarring. It's exciting to see what random pieces he sticks together. This is the rare pop record with some serious smarts behind it. It may play homage to the disposable pop from Baron's childhood, but don't be fooled, 'RadioHeart' is anything but. If anything, it's essential.
- Words by Nathan Leigh
Banner photo by Jermaine D. Clark