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Tuesday June 6th, 2023 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Korine, CD Ghost, & Monta

I'm way behind on these write-ups, so here's a "just the facts" sort of recap. Sorry for the slight.

Monta opened the night. The quintet currently writes danceable synthpop that aims for earbuds, not the disco. Past versions of the band delivered long jamming songs rife with psychedelic and space rock noodles, but now, when the band reaches for an accent flavor it often chooses darkwave or post-punk. So now, those far-flung moments recall The Cure's work on Top or Head on the Door, which is an interesting place to land. The band creates this sound with the tight and concise acoustic drums of Matthew Heinrich, with synths that bubble under everything, and with textures rather with focus-pulling leads. The origin of each ingredient is a mystery, as synths, guitar, bass, or baritone could come from any or all of Dedric Moore, Krysztof Nemeth, and Lucas Behrens. And with the pedals employed, any of their instrument could take on the tone of any other. Nemeth, in particular, is given lots of room to roam and sculpt as long as he comes back in time to deliver the expected lines. Vocals come from Mikal Shapiro and Moore. Neither have big voices that command attention, instead each slide in with the rest of the instruments providing support. It sounded good, and the new song debuted in the middle of the band's thirty-minute set, was a real winner. As a popup thunderstorm raged outside, the sparse crowd sat at distant tables in the dark club. Like I said, earbuds not dance floors.

The final two bands came through as a package tour. Each a duo. Each synthpop. Each recording for Born Losers Records. Each performing on a dark stage tinted blue and obscured by active fog machines. Let's see if we can spot the differences.

The first was Los Angeles' CD Ghost. The project was formed in 2020 by Cody Han and Blake Dimas. Live, Han provides vocals and offers occasional synth leads, while Blake Dimas provided live keyboards and infrequent bass guitar. Both seemed to reach for the triggers and controls that brought in the percussive backing tracks. The band's synthpop is expansive and occasionally lush, but it's also low-key and reserved – there are few leads, no bounce, no explosive drops, and no brash hooks in the band's short pop songs. Han's rich voice was low in the mix, and often doubled with a keyboard line to cement it in place. The result was soulful, even sensual. Dig deep and you may find some Thompson Twins comparisons, or more brusquely you'll hear the mid '90s output of New Order, Human League, or Pet Shop Boys. There wasn't much banter during the set and neither performer was concerned with putting on a show. The blue lights and fog set a mood and the audience swayed accordingly. Only "Undercurrent" – the penultimate song in the band's nine-song set – stood out with its punchy vocals and cascading keyboard lead. The set was more beauty than beats.

At 9:45 one set of keyboard stands had been replaced with another allowing Philadelphia's Korine to continue the night. The duo's music is realized by the vocals (and, on two newer songs, guitar) of Morgy Ramone and the synths and bass of Trey Frye. The project is chillwave to my ears, not far from acts that court commercial radio and that once delighted the hipsters. It's possible to bliss out to the band, but you're more likely to have Korine on your gym playlist than your bedtime one. Each song's energy carried through to its performance. Ramone danced and bounced around while punching out their vocals amidst the surging synths and aggressive percussion of the comprehensive backing tracks. Of course, the dim stage and thick fog made it hard to make out more than a swishing skirt and wild hair waving in front of the vertical light bars that pulsed and chased to the music. The audience was more visible, and I watched one fan dance hard for the entirety of band's 40-minute set. Other patrons were more reserved, but each of them let out a cheer of excitement when the band started closer "Elegance & You." The song's four-on-the-floor rhythm and shifting keyboard line exemplified the best the band has to offer, and it ended the night providing a burst of dopamine.