When musician Michael Flynn left Charleston recently, after years of showering that city with his beautiful, electronic-infused songs about geek love, the vacuum left by the absence of his talent was palpable. Fortunately for us, Flynn, who is also one half of the outfit Slow Runner, is continuing to let whatever muses power his creativity push him to write, play, sing and record. His latest effort, Pretend Like, is released under his name alone, but fans of Slow Runner’s gorgeous melancholy synth-pop sound with find much to love here.
The opening song, “Greater Charlotte”, just might have replaced “The Stakes Were Raised” (off Slow Runner’s 2008 album Mermaids) as his most gorgeous composition ever. Starting with a simple piano melody, Flynn declares, “I’m going out today/I’m going to gamble with the few lives I have left/Before you went away/You went and rearranged the contents of my chest”. Those are literally the first words you hear on the new album, and it’s almost as if Flynn is telling listeners familiar with his work, “You thought you’d heard me at my heartbreakingly best? Hold my beer.” Even the chorus to that first tune is pure genius – “And there’s a hole the size of greater Charlotte/There’s a moon that makes the ocean ebb and flow/There’s a note left on the bloodstained carpet/Back later babe, I’m going out for smokes”.
The next track, “Great Gasp”, is no less effective. Flynn’s falsetto “Oooooh’s” blend perfectly with the strings on the song. I’d love to see this tune performed live with a string quartet a la Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet. Flynn’s lyrical imagery has always been wonderfully on point, and there’s no shortage of great lines here. From talk of punch-drunk hearts on “Burning Bridge” to his urge to “Cannonball into the heart of your vanishing life,” the mental pictures processed while listening are sure to be rich.
Two tracks (besides the ridiculously beautiful “Greater Charlotte”) really stuck out for me on the album. “Church Clothes” is, not surprisingly, another song about love, possibly unrequited, and Flynn is at his best here on both lyrics and keyboards. “Hey, you and me/We’re All bruises and steam”, sings Flynn while he plays a funky melody on what sounds like a clavinet. Even better is the deceptively simple sounding “Professional Network”. That song features Flynn chanting “I would like to add you to my professional network” like some distant relative of the murderous HAL 9000 computer from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey while he also overdubs himself harmonizing along with lines like “I don’t want to die alone.” It’s hypnotically rhythmic, both organic and artificial sounding, and it’s genius. In addition to writing music for commercial release Flynn has found success the last few years composing for video games and other sources. Here’s hoping though that he never stops releasing his weirdly gorgeous brand of heartbreak electronica.