I blame Bryan Ferry. For the past three decades, he and his disco-era art-rock outfit, Roxy Music, have consistently turned out stylized music that somehow manages to achieve an aesthetic known only hitherto in the sphere of fashion.

It's hardly a surprise that his signature crooning for style's sake has become the soundtrack for many a designer runway. The progression is pure engineering: set mood, get dressed, and prance-or lounge languidly, as the case might be.

Ideally, can you imagine listening to “Boys and Girls” wearing anything other than Bianca-esque satin? Perhaps the sense in this also has to do with the recent cross-pollination of fashion, music, and gallery. Art reviews in “Vogue” and the buying of CDs at hyper-style marts (such as Colette in Paris) are now tolerated by flaneurs and indie-snobs alike. It's all New Media, claim both the shop assistants and critics.
With that in mind, it was with errant glee that I discovered Vitesse, the Chicago-based duo of Joshua Klein and Hewson Chen. Their stylized synth grooves immediately hooked me, stopping me dead while listening to a college radio station. I was convinced I was hearing some great, unknown track by an 80s synth-art band such as OMD or New Order.

Hearing the twinkling, jubiliant bleeps and lyrical immediacy of the song “Such Emotion” for the first time was comparable only to my initial exposures to The Smiths' aesthetic diary or to Felix Gonzalez-Torres' pixie-light installations. Vitesse's insistent emphasis on style owes more to Stephin Merritt's Magnetic Fields than to Roxy Music, but there is a common ground.

Chen's deep, velvety voice hovers in and out of shimmering, twinkling synth programming. Rather than the slick, overly produced electro-dance beats of what usually constitutes Style Music (read: anything from the recent trance or electroclash genre), Vitesse maintains a decidedly lo-fi approach. Certain clichés are downright unavoidable in any mention of this sound: dreamy, “bedroom-indie,” meandering and ephemeral are all spot-on.

The latest Vitesse release, You Win Again, Gravity, proves that mechanically programmed drumming and guitar can produce intimacy, if not a deeply captivating sense of emotion. Emo-synth, dare I suggest?
The lyrics, which have gone from nearly indecipherable on their first album, A Strange Hostility, to almost Magnetic Fields-like on this, their fourth full release, offer an insightful counterpoint to the droning rhythm. In “What's Forgotten,” Chen resigns himself belatedly to the notion that “you can't outrun the past, but there's no reason not to try and hide from what's forgotten.”

It-like another track, “Unsolvable”-seems to offer a perfect acoustic expression for the Gerhard Richter-weaned generation. One gets the impression that Vitesse has deliberately created at least part of a soundtrack for the scenes of contemporary life in which detachment plays an equal role with feeling. The only little problem: what to wear?

Eric Susyne
Cleveland, Ohio