The Chain Gang of 1974 isn’t much of a gang, the new wave outfit being the sole project of Kamtin Mohager. And, frankly, it doesn’t sound like much of a gang either. Mohager’s scrappy synth-pop compositions are largely made up of dreamy keyboards, sputtering drum machines and simple yet unpolished guitar riffs and strums. And while many before Mohager have made ProTools and Garage Band creations sound like the work of a studio full of musicians, there’s a stripped-down, scruffy quality to The Chain Gang of 1974 that leaves each song with the lingering, dusty glow of a bedroom-recorded project.
This bedroom-recorded rawness is what ultimately makes The Chain Gang of 1974 so charming, however. Mohager’s songs may at times sound like LCD Soundsystem demos, but his ramshackle immediacy is what keeps him from ever truly coming off as a James Murphy imitator. From the beginning of debut album The Wayward Fire, Mohager displays an everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach, piling leadoff track “Stop” with densely layered synthesizers, raw acoustic guitars, sputtering beats and a sample plucked from Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News.” On “Devil is a Lady,” meanwhile, Mohager’s approach feels more cohesive, with its Interpol-style post-punk guitar rubbing up nicely against dark synths and some admittedly silly falsetto vocals.
Though The Chain Gang of 1974 stands apart for not sounding as polished and streamlined as a group like Cut Copy, there are moments on The Wayward Fire that come close, most notably the soaring “Hold On.” Still, there are just as many tracks that pay rather blatant homage to the sounds of the ’80s, like “Heartbreakin’ Scream,” which bears the quality of numerous John Hughes soundtracks mashed into one. And even less satisfying is the M.O.R. alternative post-punk of “Taste of Heaven,” which coasts a little too close to She Wants Revenge or Neon Trees for comfort. Still, when Mohager finds his own groove, he’s capable of creating some impressive indie dance tracks. There are rough patches throughout The Wayward Fire, but enough moments of inspiration arise to warrant curiosity about what comes next.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.