It’s easy to see why musicians are drawn to the idea of forming a duo. There’s a purity to it, that the economy of scale is the best way to pay tribute to the pioneers of rock and roll. If one limits the number of instruments the band can play at any one time, the songwriting has no choice but to be simple and straightforward. Fun fact: every band who goes this route will ultimately be bored out of their minds.
For Ann Arbor duo IAMDYNAMITE, boredom appears to have settled in quickly. The band’s 2011 debut SUPERMEGAFANTASTIC was a party on wheels, loaded with thunderous drums, power chords, hand claps, and wordless singalongs, with enough energy to power their home town for a month. For Wasa Tusa, the band’s sophomore album, they’ve basically made a China Crisis album. Gone are the four-on-the-floor rave-ups like “Stereo,” and in their place are a series of thoughtful, gorgeously melodic pop songs that will have ’80s alt-pop fans swooning.
The band doesn’t waste any time showing off their new clothes, either. “Be There” is an AOR fan’s wet dream, an upbeat minor-key pop tune with a vocal performance from singer Chris Martin (yes, his name is Chris Martin) that recalls Sting before he became insufferable. “In the Summer” is another melancholy gem that the band never hinted was within its reach, not to mention something they’d be interested in doing. It’s a glorious thing to behold.
There is a bridge between the band’s debut and this album, and funnily enough, it’s the second-to-last song. “Bloom” features the album’s biggest guitar riff, and a three-minute build-build-build BOOM finale, though the vocal that accompanies that explosive finish (indeed, the whole song) is, of course, a falsetto. Even as they give their fans what they want, they do it on their terms.
To bring the whole ‘80s pop comparison home, album closer “Tear a Line” ends with a sax solo. Wasa Tusa has such a surgical focus on ‘80s songwriting and production style that it would not be surprising to believe that the band made this album for no other reason than the fact that the people who came of age during that time still buy a hell of a lot of records, are brand-loyal, and the band wanted a piece of that disposable cash pie. That might sound cynical if it were at all true (it surely isn’t), but consider this: in order for this con to work, the band first had to come up with an entire album’s worth of really, really good tunes that sound like they were written 30 years ago. That is much harder to do than one might think. IAMDYNAMITE are clearly in it for the long haul. Thank heaven for that.