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Definitive Vox

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by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & e like United State of Electronica for a variety of perfectly reasonable sonic, philosophical and aesthetic reasons. But at the heart of the matter -- what makes us really love them -- is something dark and shameful that we can't explain. We love them for the very same reason we hated that Cher song "Believe" and every other digitized diva one-off chart topper it spawned. We love them because they use that old voice robotizing gimmick, the vocoder. But they don't just use it -- they use the crap out it. They use it like Basement Jaxx does. Unlike Basement Jaxx, though, U.S.E.'s vocoder doesn't grate on us after three songs.


Hypocrisy! We know. Such things would normally bother us. Yet, here we sit, heads bobbing, strangely calm. For reasons that aren't entirely clear to us yet (we're scouring our souls, promise) we like hearing Noah Weaver's voice filtered, stripped of its fundamental frequency, digitized -- made unrecognizable, essentially -- and spat back out in all its warbly android glory.


Maybe the vocoder works because it's used like any other instrument. There's a feel U.S.E. are going for, and every time they want that feel, they go to it. It's not some parlor trick to wow the kiddies. It serves a purpose and is revisited often enough that it becomes part of the record's cyberpunk thematics.


Maybe it's tied to the newness of this whole, intriguingly backward paradigm U.S.E. and Velella Velella are working from, making a half-dozen people on live instruments sound like one dude's laptop dissertation. Here, they're using a human voice and a piece of 70-year-old tech to create an information age sound. That's awesome.


It's also tight that they've tied it to one voice. While other singers chime in unmolested, it's perversely comforting knowing that every time you hear Weaver, it's going to be piped through that damned glorious vocoder. It builds anticipation. The effect would be Darth Vader-y if U.S.E. weren't the good guys. That makes them more like Max Headroom, we suppose, though less overtly sexual, less anti-heroic and without the Coke deal. Something like Max Headroom. Only better, obviously.

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