The title is sad, but the music is upbeat. Active from 2000-2010, Belgium’s Styrofoam then went silent for nearly a decade. We Can Never Go Home is a welcome return to the sound of a warmer time, an indication that in some ways ~ in music and memory ~ we can return home after all.
The big change is that the new album is instrumental. This makes us happy, not because we dislike words, but because we prefer those conjured by notes. Those who were fans of Morr Music at the turn of the century will find this music a pleasant reminder of the pre-9/11 era. The upbeat nature of these tracks ~ even in the midst of steep emotion ~ tugs listeners toward a more hopeful disposition. Titles such as “Love Restores Almost Anything” and “This Terrible and Beautiful World” indicate a full engagement with the world as it is, leading to a choice to remain positive.
The synths are comforting, the bass deep, the glitches sharp and defined. Production values have certainly improved since 2000. Reading the press release, we come across a phrase we haven’t seen in years: “bleeps and boops.” It’s a fun, slightly twee way to describe the music, but it fits. While listening to the giant pads of “It Isn’t Real So It Doesn’t Count,” we remember our giant hair. But there’s more here than simple nostalgia. “The Crook of Your Elbow” is an ebullient lullaby, a melodic message that everything really is going to be okay. The dependable drums act as the solid ground atop which the playground of notes is built.
The muscular beats of “Love Restores Almost Everything” are a reminder of an inner toughness, which ironically is born of tenderness. When we choose to surrender to love rather than to hate, to open our arms instead of closing our borders, many mysteries fall and a lot of the world suddenly makes sense. Styrofoam (Arne Van Petegem) chose to reengage as a response to disillusionment. On the surface, his music now is similar to his music then. But it could have been different. We Can Never Go Home is a reflection of an arc that brought the artist back to a place he’d left behind; perhaps not his original, physical home, but an inner peace that feels like home, and sounds like it as well. (Richard Allen)