Canada seems to be the breeding ground for crunchy electro pop these days, and Toronto-based Parallels may be one of the groups that helped start it all. The synthpop trio formed in 2008, when Cameron Findlay, the former drummer of fellow Canadian electro poppers Crystal Castles, teamed up with vocalist/composer/producer Holly Dodson.
Since its inception four years ago, the trio has undergone a few member changes (including Findlay’s departure to start a new project, Kontravoid), but Dodson has been the band’s primary songwriter from the beginning. The three-piece released its first EP, Ultralight, back in 2009, and its debut LP, Visionaries, a year later. This June marked the release of the electro outfit’s anticipated sophomore effort, XII.
Aside from the lineup changes, the music’s mood shifted drastically compared to Parallels’ older material. Where Visionaries possessed a dark, almost gothic tone to it, XII is much lighter. This transition is apparent from the first track. Album opener, “Ritual Dancer,” is a buoyant tune, rich with chirping synthesizers and marching percussion. And if the modified tone wasn’t apparent enough by the instrumentation, Dodson sings, “Come out of the darkness and into the light, and I’ll lay it all out if you make it right.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that.
As with most current electro pop acts, Parallels’ music sounds like it came from the ‘80s. The band lists New Order as an influence, and Dodson’s saccharine vocals are reminiscent of Kate Bush and Madonna during her True Blue era. That being said, it’s no surprise that XII features a cover of Gowan’s 1987 Canadian hit, “Moonlight Desires.” The trio’s interpretation rids of any rigidity the original contained and modernizes it (with contemporary electronics/synthesizers). Atop chiming keyboard riffs, Dodson sings in her soft, angelic timbre, smoothing the original’s rough edges and adding vocal layering to further complex the tune.
The album’s twelve tracks follow in the same direction—each a shimmering gem of electro pop. But unfortunately, although each song shines on its own, the collection as a whole feels a bit redundant and muddled as the record continues through its 47 minutes of playtime. Though Dodson’s vocals translate magically with brighter, upbeat instrumentation, there’s something to be said about the menacing, dark tone the band used to possess. It felt like the band had a secret, which kept its listeners on their toes. But maybe Parallels is still trying to find its new sound, and that’s okay too, it’s just not quite there yet.