Following the release of their 2016 album Paradise, NYC’s art-punk act Pop. 1280 have done much to push their sound in exciting directions. With lead singer Chris Bug harnessing his inner-Michael Gira, the now-trio have built on 2019’s Way Station and unleashed Museum on the Horizon, a throwback to 80s post-punk and new wave with a cyberpunk overcoat.
This aesthetic is nothing new, but the band sounds more invigorated on Museum than they have in years, even amidst lineup and label changes. The stylized title track opens the record like a coked-out Blade Runner homage – dark and mysterious but livened by frigid and bare synths. Bug’s not hiding like he used to on previous Pop. 1280 records, his grotty, grisly voice leads the attack.
The album ripples with this freshness, an indication that the band wants to break new ground on their own sound. It’s accomplished, mostly, on trance-inflected cuts like “Not Too Deep,” where the threesome craft a danceable beat that still feels purposely languid and desolate before Bug’s vocals echo down the hallways.
Toying with all these different sounds has helped to make Pop. 1280 a much more interesting band too, with the hyper-pop production of “Brennschluss” in particular indicating a newfound appreciation for vibrant synths and sunnier aesthetic when needed. This makes Museum a little uneven at times, but still a much more rewarding effort than their last few outings. Bug’s lyrics are still darker than the music probably calls for, and his drawn-out presentations overstay their welcome from time to time. Overall though this sound suits Pop. 1280 much more.
The Swans comparison has always been there, and it won’t go away any time soon. Bug doesn’t hit the snarls like Gira, nor does he even try, but his vocal style is unmistakably similar. This has and continues to distract Pop. 1280’s sound even though songs like the disturbing alien probe “Two-Body Problem” would never come from Swans. Pop. 1280 is far removed from that industrial post-punk side of things, opting for more new wave and experimental notions.
On the other hand, “Noncompliant” might be the band’s most accessible track to date. It draws from the industrial synths that you’d find on a Nine Inch Nails record from the 90s, with speed and intensity elevating Bug’s drawl. With Museum, it feels like Pop. 1280 have found a direction to go in. It’s bolder than previous work, and after working out a few kinks, could lead to some much grander displays.