Personnel: HeCTA (electric guitar, keyboards, electric bass, drums); Scott Marten, Ryan Norris (vocals, piano, synthesizer, bass synthesizer, vocoder, percussion, programming); Cortney Tidwell (vocals); James Wood (cello); Kurt Wagner (horns, piano, percussion, programming); Matt Glassmeyer (horns).
Photographer: Garry Velletri.
"It's not Americana, house, techno, trap, juke, or blaze," Kurt Wagner wrote in a press release regarding his new project, HeCTA. "Why would it be?" Well, after two decades of making records with his group Lambchop, it's no great shock that some of Wagner's fans would expect something resembling the graceful, willfully eccentric Southern chamber pop that's been his calling card, so the fact HeCTA is clearly not Americana might puzzle a few folks. But as for that list of electronic subgenres, Wagner is certainly taking his followers someplace they may not go of their own volition; HeCTA's debut The Diet dives deep into electronic frameworks and textures, with the unrelenting pulse of sequencers pushing the songs forward as shimmering keyboard lines, deeply processed vocals, and distant-sounding instrumental samples dodge in and out of the mix. The Diet isn't a Kurt Wagner album with an electronic influence, it's the debut of an electronic group that just so happens to be led by the guy who fronts Lambchop (and also features two other members of the group, Scott Martin and Ryan Norris). That said, while it's hard to imagine this is Kurt Wagner's work on first listen, after a few spins one can pick out his melodic sense in the slow drift of "Like You're Worth It," the pulsating pop hook of "Sympathy for the Auto Industry," the sweep of the strings on "Give Us Your Names," and the finger snaps skating over horn samples on "We Are Glistening." And when Wagner's murky but very human vocals rise up, it has very much the same grounding effect as they do on Lambchop's recordings, despite the dramatically different surroundings. And Lambchop's playful sense is all over "The Concept," a thundering dance track that's built around samples from an old Buddy Hackett comedy routine; it's anyone's guess how Wagner was inspired to fuse Hackett and a pounding bass pulse, but like nearly everything on The Diet, it's a digital landscape where a very human pulsebeat lurks below the surface, and HeCTA's debut is an experiment that works remarkably well on its own terms. ~ Mark Deming