Ryan DeRobertis is a name you should already be familiar with — having been subject to a wide array of acclaim in the past few years, whether it’s being named one of Stereogum’s “Bands to Watch” in the summer of 2013, or the word of mouth that made any of his vast backlog of previous releases so buzzworthy. He sparked a new fire in an already well-worn pop song with his sauntering reinterpretation of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe,” a savvy move that brought a number of new listeners deep into his realm of vaporwave. A flashy-twist on Drake’s Nothing Was the Same highlight “Worst Behavior” further demonstrated DeRobertis’ wide-sweeping ear, and that trying to pin him down to any one label would prove futile.
All of the above work, which came about in a prolific few years that saw nine Bandcamp full-lengths, was released under the moniker Saint Pepsi. That name proved to irk a pretty obvious and large target — so in order to keep making music without the headache of running into copyright disputation, DeRobertis lifted a song title from his own discography and redubbed himself Skylar Spence. With the name change came a distinct turning point in the direction of his musical style, infusing his vaporwave roots with a heavy dose of disco-pop bombast. His first full-length highlighted this stylistic change of pace last month, in the form of the exhilarating Prom King.
After delivering its own introduction with a drum roll and shout, Prom King wastes no time in starting the party. The finger-snapping and pitch-bending “Intro” leads straight into “Can’t See You”, a striking self-analytical tune with a colossal chorus that reaches for the skies and overshoots it by miles, without looking back for a moment. The song sees DeRobertis look inward, revealing confidence (“I’m in love with my own reflection”…“In the heat of the moment I thought that I could kiss myself”) and more levelheaded references to his past musical ventures (“I was working, tried my hardest / Slowed some music down and called myself an artist”).
By now, it would be hard to call DeRobertis anything but.
Prom King holds enough shine and swagger to work effectively as a soundtrack to everyone’s “best night ever,” but is infused with ample lyrical depth and carefully placed space to serve that function both in a packed car on its way into the evening, or a solitary drive home at the end of the night. “Fiona Coyne” — titled after the the Degrassi character of the same name — is an immediate highlight, a bold and bright pop-gem with DeRobertis’ newfound singing confidence on full display. The album clicks no matter what musical thread Skylar Spence chases: “Cash Wednesday” is hyperactive, sounding like a quilt of musical ideas rhythmically collapsing in real time, meanwhile “Affairs” would not stand out of place on a Best-of-the-80’s compilation, both with its dramatic turns-of-phrase (“We built a fire / we just couldn’t handle the flames”) and its woozy synth lines.
At the center of all of Prom King‘s bounce and energy is DeRobertis, who manages to rein the barraging collage of sounds into a cohesive and controlled whole. It’s a glossy affair, but all the disparate pieces, from pop-tinged R&B to freaked-out funk, feel hand-woven. Each rumbling bass line and burst of snare breathes with personality, and DeRobertis is bringing this same care to the live recreation of these songs by performing them with a full band. Their tour began this week, and they will be making a stop in the Bay Area Saturday afternoon to kick-off this year’s Treasure Island Music Festival. I can’t think of a more apt artist to bring the crowd to life.
Treasure Island Music Festival
Oct 17-18, 2015, Noon – 11pm
$95 single day, all ages