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Night Protocol, 'Static'

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Published December 7, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


(Self-released, cassette, CD, digital)

Burlington's Night Protocol are the local monarchs of synthwave, a micro-genre of electronic music that cherry-picks elements from 1980s pop culture and airbrushes them into a cohesive sound and vibe. If synthwave had a Bible, its Old Testament could be Madonna's 1984 banger "Dress You Up," and its New Testament would be whatever French musician and producer Kavinsky is doing right now.

Night Protocol's original members, Matthew Binginot, Justin Goyette and Ryan Blair, painted by numbers with the genre's calling cards: sweeping, synth-based music recalling scores to films such as Disney's Tron and video games such as Sega's Out Run; pink-and-purple neon album art; the audacity to include a keytar and lasers in their live act; and big, bold hooks bursting with platitudes. The quick addition of vocalist Amanda Marquis, balancing male singers Binginot and Goyette, conjured some serious "Don't You Want Me" energy.

Night Protocol return from a pandemic pause energized and better than ever on their new album, Static. The band's lineup has shuffled and expanded, with Blair and Goyette exiting and new players Sebastian Zervos, Erick Lattrell and Axel Handy joining. Writing collaboratively, Binginot, Marquis and Zervos unveil songs that are more melodically complex and mature than those on 2019's Tears in the Rain. And the new LP has about 400 percent more saxophone, courtesy of Zervos.

After spoken-word opener "Converging," which acts as a prelaunch sequence to ratchet up tension, the explosive "Heart Surge" zooms in, brandishing sharp snares and a pulsating synthscape. With the subtlety of a hydrogen bomb, Zervos' saxophone unleashes a firestorm of smoky sex appeal. Goyette appears as a guest on this track (and one other, "Pieces of Midnight") to deliver an overblown, near-cartoonish electric guitar solo, his signature style. See "Dress You Up" for comparison.

Loyal to the genre, Night Protocol fill their songs with sensational phrases and imagery. Marquis is histrionic when she sings, "High voltage!" in the chorus of "Heart Surge." A song about not being able to contain oneself, it's Night Protocol's brand in a nutshell.

Every track is pure drama. "What'll it be / Cause it's now or never," Zervos croons on "The Fear." One of the album's best songs, it finds perfect balance between punctuated bass, slingshot guitar riffs, splashes of sax, and a harmonized hook that flits between major and minor chords.

The best song arrives near the album's end. "Another Summer," with its softly hammered bass line recalling the Cars' moody "Drive," is a slam dunk. A smorgasbord of synths — some with rubbery textures, others that flicker softly through arpeggios — envelop Zervos and Marquis, who trade off on lead vocals. An anti-summer jam, it's a wistful tune about seasonal hype that has come crashing down.

My favorite thing about Night Protocol is their unabashed cheesiness in a contemporary music landscape that favors restraint. I bet Night Protocol would rather break up than tone it down. Long may they reign.

Static is available at nightprotocol.bandcamp.com. Catch the band on Saturday, December 10, at Foam Brewers in Burlington.

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