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Music Review: Class Actress – Rapproacher

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Rapproacher is a highly polished piece of 1980’s-sounding synth pop from Brooklyn-based Class Actress. It’s a highly satisfying sophomore effort—the band’s first release is the EP Journal of Ardency—and most of the credit goes to singer Elizabeth Harper. Hers is a voice lush and airy, always engaged, highly atmospheric, and emphatic when it needs to be. In short, Harper is what propels the entire disc and elevates it beyond the inherent limitations of its genre, which is to say that Harper’s voice is what distinguishes, even ennobles the work’s otherwise routine and multiple synth effects: popping snare, industrial plinks, and woozy fuzz guitar.

Often compared to Depeche Mode (which makes sense) and to Madonna (which doesn’t), Class Actress, without Harper, would be just another electronic band with nothing more creative going on than the layering of various synthesizers and drum machines.  Really, they are playing a kind of pop trance more than anything.   Unlike Journal of Ardency, on which Harper’s voice is overwhelmed by too much sound, the opposite is the case with Rapproacher. Here, there’s more voice and less music. That’s what makes Rapproacher far better than Ardency—what makes it, in fact, worth hearing and owning.

Mark Richardson is the second half of Class Actress, and on Rapproacher he does a fine job of assembling a sound around which Harper can examine and negotiate her various and often conflicting emotions. It perhaps took the experience gained on Ardency—whose flaw is that it is too ardent, at least musically—for Richardson to let Harper come first.

Two songs in particular stand out. The lead track, “Keep You” (whose opening sounds much like Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” beginning chords) is not lyrically profound or even clever, but it doesn’t need to be. Harper’s voice is imploring and impatient as it swells and then dies and rises again, expressing both frustration and hope at the same time:

Can I get a break here? Just give me what I want.
How long we gonna take here, here, to tell you what I want?
Do you want to call me, do you want it, I want it, do you want it all?
Do you want to call me, do you want it, I want it, do you want it all?

The disc’s best song, “Love Me Like You Used To,” begins with a declaration of sadness, loss and frustration:

Didn’t know how long that I could take it
But it’s getting worse with every break up
This is crazy I never wanted to do
Somehow I thought it’d always work out
You do the right thing and say the wrong thing
But somehow you’d always forgive me.

It ends with an imploring “come on, come on, love me like you used to” over and over. It’s a brilliant and poignant song. While no others on Rapproacher quite reach this perfect amalgam of substance and style, they all, in their way, come close.

Class Actress clearly has a future, a bright one, so long as Elizabeth Harper is the band’s centerpiece.

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