The Verge – Lookbook

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. Last time, I profiled two rising female-fronted indie rock bands, the Dum Dum Girls and Screaming Females. Now, it’s time to replace those guitars with synths.

A lookbook is used by fashionistas to showcase a particular designer or style. Minneapolis band Lookbook is a duo that showcase a particular style of electronic music that is equal parts dream pop and synth pop.

Grant Cutler (synths) and Maggie Morrison (vocals) fit the mold of similar outfits like La Roux, Beach House, and the Knife, combining a chanteuse with a male partner behind the boards. Like those groups, their sound owes much to 1980s electro pop of all stripes, with sweeping synth strings, metallic drum machine beats, and effect-laden vocals.

Lookbook’s first EP, I Fear You, My Darkness, was self-released in late 2008. As the title suggests, the band covers dark sonic and lyrical territory. The EPs five songs find the pair brooding over atmospheric soundscapes; it’s more new age than new wave. The highlight is definitely the seven minute “Steal the Night,” an epic that evokes the emotional tone of Patti Smith’s similarly-titled “Because of the Night.”

In 2009, Lookbook released their full-length record Wild At Heart. While I Fear You, My Darkness feels cathartic, Wild At Heart allows the band to expand and enrich their sound. The songs are more upbeat and danceable, but darkness and vulnerability remain just below the surface. Morrison’s vocals are sharper and less dreamy, somewhere between Karen O and Cyndi Lauper. The album opens with “Over and Over,” which builds for nearly the entire length of the song to a pounding, crashing climax.

Throughout Wild at Heart, Cutler’s beats command you to dance to songs full of shimmering keys and electronic chirps. Morrison is charismatic on the mic, with stylized, flowing verses and full-throated choruses. And for a style that is not necessarily novel, I think the duo captures and modernizes 80s synth pop better than some of their contemporaries; Wild at Heart compares favorably to It’s Blitz!, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s foray into similar ground.

If 1980s revival is the fashion, Lookbook is the guide to the style.

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