[debut] is the name of a band, not the thing bands do when they have their first album. This is, however, also [debut]’s debut full-length album. Postcards from Berlin is the first work Gareth Thompson has produced since 2013, and it was all funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Thompson raised $10,000 through this campaign which was not only donations-based but also sales-based in the form of tshirts. Clearly fans wanted to see more of this collective with Thompson in the center and a rotating cast of characters who helped him produce his interesting electronic music.
With Thompson and his gallery of vintage synthesizers the only constant in the [debut] project, the first two EPs he released earned him and his helpful contributors a cult following. Sweet Little Girl and Starting to Love It both released in 2013 and garnered the project critical accolades as well as popular attention. A number of known and unknown vocalists, instrumentalists and producers helped with these EPs, as well as on Postcards from Berlin.
A new choice on Postcards from Berlin was for Thompson to take the vocal lead on most of the songs, and unfortunately this was the wrong decision in most cases. The album opens with Not the One, More than This and Low. On all three of these tracks Thompson’s vocals are perpetually flat in relation to the music. The music itself is quite sparse and boring, and doesn’t sound like it was mastered well.
This is the first album where Thompson decided to bring in classical musicians and themes so that could have been what threw him off on the composition side of things. It doesn’t explain the odd choices on the vocals, however, and this is a running problem throughout the album. Some other songs are perfectly acceptable musically, but the vocals, if Thompson is singing them, almost always detract from the music.
After this disappointing start, things pick up on Postcards from Berlin with Want. In this track Thompson does a better job marrying electronic and classical elements in his composition and the choice of well-toned female vocals make this track one of the best on the album. This track is a great example of the characteristic electronic dark wave from the earlier incarnations of [debut] with the added classical touch Thompson wanted. The other tracks which do not feature his vocals, Come Around and the all-instrumental bonus track, Berlin, are two other highlights on Postcards from Berlin.
The flatness of Thompson’s vocals really clangs on Open Your Soul, where he sings with a female vocalist who is on-key with the music. It does not seem that this was done for any kind of sonic dissonance effect, as the song is meant to be very serious and mellifluous. There is, however, one shining example on the album where Thompson’s vocals match the key in which the song is written and he achieves a well-toned marriage between electronic and classical music elements. Passion, the final song on the first version of the album, shows that Thompson can sing on key and that he can also achieve the symphonic effect he was going for all along. It just may take a little tinkering and maybe a vocal coach before the next release.
Postcards from Berlin is not necessarily [debut]’s finest work, which is unfortunate because it was fan-funded Getting new sounds tuned perfectly takes time, especially when the group’s members rotate as much as they do in [debut]. The new album is worth checking out for the sake of Passion, Want and Come Around. Currently the bonus track Berlin is only available upon purchase of the limited edition CD through the [debut] website. Many of the songs on Postcards from Berlin are available to stream and download on Soundcloud, and links to those sites are posted below in “Sources.” With the ever-changing cast of musicians in [debut] and Thompson’s creative mind, the next release from this interesting collective is sure to be different and hopefully a little more finely tuned than Postcards from Berlin.
Review by Layla Klamt