PREMIERE: Sympathy Points & Backtraveller - Vacation Songs

Laura Kerry

What do you get when you take a pure electronic act and a solo musician who claims—perhaps cheekily but not falsely—to be inspired by cicadas and buzzing appliances and mix them together in Virginia? The answer is Vacation Songs, a strange and delightful collection of six tracks by Sympathy Points in collaboration with nearby Backtraveller. While both sides of the collaboration seem accustomed to heavily-synthesized, all-instrumental music (though a nu-gazey single from Backtraveller’s forthcoming EP, “Whenever You See Me,” suggests otherwise), Vacation Songs incorporates singing and guitar-driven compositions in nearly every song.

Despite the guitar and vocals—a combination that sets an expectation of pop accessibility—Sympathy Points and Backtraveller mostly stick to the abstract. In title and in sound, Vacation Songs occasionally feels like the decade-plus-late follow up to Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs, with its sunny guitar strums driving blurry, freewheeling tunes. But the comparison only goes so far. Though it does have its moments, most of this joint album isn’t quite so out there; the quiet percussion on the electronic “Cascade Mtn.,” for example, drives a catchy tune with a clear and engaging chorus, and the gentle guitar combined with a light touch of synth and sad melody in “Glassboat” create a transparently and achingly mournful song.

And while they are often disguised by effects and treated as another instrument, the vocals are also expressively human. In one of the most striking moments on the album, at the explosive build-up halfway through “Other,” the singer hits a single falsetto note that radiates over the subdued melee of synthesizer. In this and other moments throughout Vacation Songs, Sympathy Points and Backtraveller have created something warm and beautiful at the intersection of acoustic and electronic sound.