The album marks Geist's first foray into traditional song production, but don't call it pop—effervescence and catharsis are largely absent here. Instead there's a strong Motown happy/sad vibe, in some sense the perfect object of expression for the Geist-Greenspan team. "Palace Life," for example, brims with the sort of dolce vita glitz you might expect from the title, but it's tinged with distantiatio; it's palace life not through the eyes of the sated king, but an interloper alienated yet momentarily enthralled.
Lead single "Detroit" showcases Geist's unparalleled production skills: Crystalline hi-def synth bursts are borne up by a super-warm low end and that pulsing electro-shimmy that's his rhythmic trademark. It's a reminder that throughout his career Geist has been able to mine the regions between techno and disco in consistently innovative and rewarding ways, returning each time anew to experiment with human hearts in robot bodies.
"Detroit" might seem to have two strikes against it: There's a clichéd vocal sample repeatedly announcing the city's name and, as some have noted, the song flows directly into one of Geist's own earlier tracks, the B-side "24K." But if you consider just how much "Detroit" is suffused with melancholic reflection (with lyrics like "Can you recall…that night / We drove through the stars..." and "I remember that night...feelings I no longer know"), then both the "Detroit" vocal sample and Geist's self-interpolation come into clearer focus; the past is resurrected on multiple levels—a beautiful private memory, a bygone golden age of music and even one's own past artistic accomplishments. It's a brilliant, multi-faceted elegy of lost happiness, one that gets to revel in the ghosts of joy it's conjured even as they eventually recede again into the darkness—not out of nostalgia, but for the sake of transformation—just as Greenspan sings elsewhere, "the present circumstances paint the past as something new."
The instrumental tracks here are untouchable: You're not likely to hear synthesizers with such compelling gloss and shimmer elsewhere anytime soon. "Nocebo" and "Lullaby" are sexy nocturnal slow-burners, endowed with solid doses of luscious '80s electro-funk, and the most Metro Area-like on the album. "Skyblue Pink" is an atmospheric stomp heavy on John Carpenter/Goblin portent.
The vocal tracks, however, are more hit-or-miss. "City of Smoke and Flame" is a particular clunker: Greenspan sounds uninspired with lines like "First I'll get the car...then I'll fix up the yard." Underneath, the mid-tempo drums feel just as weighed down by the cares of a family man. Everything seems like it's pushing to glow darkly with noirish intensity, but the aimed-for transcendence of smoke and flame never rises up from in-between the sluggish beats and uncertain vocals.
There are a few other wincers scattered here and there, like the awkward cadences of "Most of All," but that's part of the conscious risk for Geist this time: In his recent RA interview he mentions wanting specifically to aim for emotional directness, in the way an old jazz standard is direct. If you're not Irving Berlin, however, then with such unabashed lyrical simplicity you've got to rely heavily on melodic wallop to deliver the goods, and that's a gamble that pays off about half the time here.
"Ruthless City" is a more effective case: It's a strutting funk ballad with a classic '80s synth-bell melody that stages romantic drama against a backdrop of sci-fi urban malaise. The track's passionate, vulnerable outro is one of the album's highlights, encapsulating the world of love, longing and ennui in the neon wilderness that pervades Double Night Time.