Migrant Kids’ Primordial Soup is a Propulsive and Playful Follow-Up to Their Debut

by Robert PreliascoPrimordial Soup

After an attention-getting self-titled LP in 2013, and fresh off the road from touring with The Bright Light Social Hour and The Digital Wild, Migrant Kids return with a new EP, Primordial Soup which comes out this Friday, May 13.

The band is somewhat altering the formula that saw them named the Austin Chronicle’s Best New Band of 2014/15 for their debut, trading in some of the guitar-driven ambiance for a lot more synth pop. The result is catchy, danceable, and a bit dark. Throughout, there are crisp bass and drum grooves with plenty of synthesizer. Tonally, think more New Order than Tears for Fears, or synth-pop revival act Destroyer.

The album’s catchiest track (and the single), “Thread,” has a hook that is simultaneously infectious and mellow, with John Zakoor’s vocals pleasantly murmured. Everything about the music evokes the dark, windy and hopeless motorcycle rides to a soon-to-be-ex lover’s house that the lyrics describe. Nonetheless, the song pulls off one of my favorite songwriting tricks: being simultaneously happy and sad. The track’s up-tempo pulse, with plenty of synthesizer swells and a clean-picked, disco-fast guitar line, belie desperate and sad lyrics:
I’m getting closer now/This should end but we don’t know how/Two lovers hanging on by a thread…/Don’t say you love me/Cause I’ll just kiss you again/And it means too much.

In this context, “Thread’s” propulsive groove is more like the soundtrack as two people hurtle past each other. It isn’t the only track to use the happy/sad trick to good effect.

My eyes have been cheating/My soul has been beaten,” Zakoor sings on opening track “Beaten.” The song ably sets the tone for the album, which is one of dark grooves married to upbeat choruses. Imagine driving down a neon-lit urban strip at night, in a convertible, in the 1980’s-– this album is your soundtrack.

Album closer “Religion,” a seven-minute psych-rock track, changes things up, though. It has a washier sound than the tight bass/drum grooves of the prior tracks and shares more DNA with “Wish You Were Here”-era Pink Floyd than with the rest of the EP, sounding more like the band’s self-titled debut LP. Distorted guitar plays a bigger role here, ripping apart a bass and synth interlude in the second half with an extended solo, punctuated by lush vocals swells that would be at home in a Flaming Lips song. It makes perfect sense as an album closer.

As an EP should, Primordial Soup sets a mood. From dark mystery to resignation to jammed-out guitar fuzz, it is a complete work. Zakoor, his cousin Miguel Ojeda  and Austin-recruited drummer Bryan O’Flynn have clear chemistry and cohesion from their years of playing together and it shows on Primordial Soup. This is your stop for synth rock.

Migrant Kids play Cheer Up Charlie’s this Friday, May 13th with the Digital Wild for their EP release.