Mara Barenbaum, you suspect, is a subscriber to the idea that less is more. The San Franciscan’s debut album, recently released on London’s intriguing Night School Records under her Group Rhoda moniker, is an exercise in the effectiveness of simplicity. Barenbaum, working alone, employs little more than simple, unembellished drum machine rhythms and the barest keyboard accompaniment to her ghostly vocal melodies. Yet, though the formula is simple, the result is surprising – what starts off seeming like it’ll barely keep your attention ends up putting you in a trance.
The title of her album, “Out of Touch – Out of Time”, seems a little tongue in cheek. While the tools and production are admittedly very late seventies/early eighties, most obviously channeling the stark sound of Suicide, the overall effect is hardly out of touch – Group Rhoda fits very much into the niche carved by Maria Minerva, Julia Holter and even Peaking Lights (only much, much colder). The music is certainly not out of time either – the rigid drum patterns see to that. While their are brighter moments, such as the oddly tropical “Hi Rise” (like a tracing paper outline of Gang Gang Dance), the human element is dislocated, akin to finding an intimate photo of someone else’s family being blown down an empty alleyway. Even the catchier songs like “Fire” are more like spectres of pop than pop itself, which just makes them all the more appealing. It seems Group Rhoda haunt you in all the best ways.