R&D (PorchFire Records)
Reviewed by Libby Webster, Fri., June 28, 2019
Following two previous concept albums – 2017 debut Masc, a meditation on masculinity, and 2018 EP Heat Wave, a grief-pop take on global warming – TC Superstar tackles an electrified choose-your-own-adventure of love on R&D. Focusing on two main characters, Ricky and Dana, the Austin eightpiece eschews a linear arc and attempts to answer all of the lingering "what-ifs" of a relationship. Half of TC Superstar's members are solely dancers, and while their visuals are removed from the 11 tracks here, their movement feels palpable. Hip pops and sweeping arm motions are intrinsic in every beat as Connor McCampbell's deep, even-keeled murmur anchors the ebullient tangle of dazzling pop. Jangling opener "Dana Be Mine," struck by the mania of teen love, bends a woozy guitar line as Dana swings back with an eye roll: "I could never love somebody with a cigarette burning through his armrest." Smiile's Mary Bryce lends crystalline, fluttering vocals to "One and Only," while Why Bonnie's Blair Howerton belts on "Ricky Ruin Me," straining against the boredom of a 20-year-relationship. Later, "Ricky, If You Want Me" flips the earlier "One and Only" on its head, pleading for variety, and "Dana's Song" skews dreamier, a bedroom recording ending on a shrill Eighties guitar riff. Title track "R&D" rolls drums like a nervous heartbeat, petering out into a moment of calm before the keys kick back in like the turning point in a coming-of-age film score. In fact, R&D feels cinematic – a teen movie where every moment is monumental, even locking eyes across the dance floor in a haze of spacious, lush synth-pop.