[sic] Magazine

System Exclusive – S/T

Those in the know will be quick to tell you that Castle Face isn’t all about weirdo prog and John Dwyer – it’s also about weirdo synth-play and Matt Jones, the label co-owner. Here the technical specialist and former Male Gaze man teams up with vocalist/guitarist Ari Blaisdell, who has form from several San Francisco underground pop/punk bands. Jones brings his toy box of retro-sounding Rolands to the party, Blaisdell her best Gwen Stefani impression and a cascade of scratchy, New Wave guitars – their trashy endeavours as System Exclusive both very cool and a lot of fun. Nothing is over complicated, 11 poppy synth-punk offerings coming on more like 2002 than 2022, latter-day Yeah Yeah Yeahs glamour as tackled by someone like The Gossip.

Jones has an absolute hoot with his synths throughout, dirty beats and rhythms getting sweaty with squelchy bass tones and giddy oscillations, the strong kick of his live drums called upon as required so your teeth don’t rot. His one-finger highlines are sometimes crude, but they’re never less than effective, Blaisdell always close by to smooth things over with a surprisingly tuneful turn on the mic when you might perhaps have expected a screech or a howl. A classy force, she brings System Exclusive together, ditching the sequins and smiles to bridge more melancholy material, somehow unifying competing pulses and over-tempo guitar riffs on catchy, electro-punk floor-fillers elsewhere.

Just try to stay still, for example, as the soon-to-be classic pop of “Magdalena” worms its way into your ears and heart, soft synth-wave led astray be harsher patterning and fingers audible on the fret. Be astonished by Blaisdell’s complete transformation into hitmaker/rockstar on “Inline Online”, the stereo-panning synths giving her licence to borrow from some of the best, her performance full of character and comfortingly familiar, homage rather than pastiche though as it’s all so lovingly done.

Best track: “Magdalena”

~System Exclusive is released 4th March 2022 via Castle Face.~