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MUSIC REVIEW

Science Park

More than just B-Fields

By Minjoo Larry Lee

One listen to Science Park’s new CD, Futurama, immediately reminds of The B-fields. Myke Weiskopf, Science Park’s founder and sole member, has had so many comparisons with The B-fields that on his homepage, he requests people never mention the similarity again. However, the similarity is noteworthy, since both The B-fields and Science Park are one-man electronic pop bands from Boston with “scientific-sounding” names and melancholy lead vocals. Subsequent listenings, however, reveal a great diversity of influences which Weiskopf has attempted to cobble together into this one CD.

In order to understand the music, it helps to understand the person behind it. Myke Weiskopf is a 22-year-old English major at Boston University, graduating this spring. He originally hails from Chicago, a city now chockful of post-rockers who put aside their guitars for synthesizers in 1996 after Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die came out. Myke, however, is not a bandwagon jumper -- he has been releasing music as Science Park on his own Obscure-Disk label since1995, and has been working with synthesizers since 1990.

The first track on Futurama, “That Part of You,” is Europop a la Pet Shop Boys and Erasure at its bubbly best. “Truth will Out” continues in that strain of hooky pop with Myke crooning, “Na-na-na-na nothing’s wrong.” Both of these songs also feature a female backing vocalist, Kristen Tocci, who nicely offsets Weiskopf’s deep baritone. “Lay You Out in Lavendar” evokes a different kind of pop sensibility, with Wyskopf accompanying himself on guitar. I was surprised to find a similarity to yet another one of Boston’s great acts, Sebadoh. While Sebadoh is not listed on the Science Park webpage as an influence, the comparison might be more than incidental -- plaintive ballads about failed relationships and awkward situations, wrapped up in melodic packages, have long been the favored domain of Lou Barlow. “Boredom and Beauty” particularly fits that profile. Futurama, in spite of the technology that went into it, still somehow maintains a kind of homespun sound (Weiskopf records all of the instrumentals onto his hard-drive at home and then does vocals and mixing at a bigger studio). While it’s a far cry from plugging an electric guitar directly into a 4-track, Futurama represents lo-fi of a different sort.

Another interesting influence on Myke is short-wave radio, an obscure hobby pursued by introverted weirdos in their basements, which conjures to mind feelings of loneliness, distance, and the desire to connect with someone out there in the dark. Samples of static in the song “Cower” are more than just background noise -- the sample is triggered in rhythm, turning it into a sort of percussion instrument, like brushes on a snare drum. “WWV” is also a nod to the culture of short-wave radio. WWV are the call letters for a shortwave station which broadcasts the time on the NIST’s Boulder, Colorado nuclear clock.

Futurama is not always successful in unifying Wyskopf’s diverse and disparate interests. This, however, is partly by design, since some songs on this CD were only put on for archival purposes (some of the songs come from as far back as 1994), helping to explain the lack of consistency from track to track. A new album from Science Park awaits, and it will be exciting to see whether Myke can continue to develop his already considerable skill in pop-song crafting and atmospheric sequencing to forge an album which listens as a solid body of work, instead of an anthology of songs.

The performance of synthesizer based music has always been a complicated and problematic proposal. The band can simply play tape loops and sing over the canned sounds, sacrificing the energy and unpredictability of performance for reliability and accuracy, or the band can attempt to replicate the synthesizer sounds with acoustic instruments, trading off the subtleties and atmospheric capabilities of synthesizers for rock. Science Park opts for a combination of the two. On stage, Myke plays with a live bassist and drummer, while simultaneously controlling samples, drum machines, playing guitar, and singing. Very recently, Myke claims to have struck the right balance between electronic and acoustic, so it should be an interesting show. If you go, tell Mike that The Tech sent you. But please don’t mention The B-fields.

Science Park plays Saturday, March 27th at Mulligan’s located at 700 Broadway in Ball Square, Somerville, MA.

The new CD, Rhythmus21, will be out this fall on Obscure-Disk.