As a member of Chairlift, the band he co-founded in 2006 and exited in 2010, Aaron Pfenning pulled double (and triple) duty – playing multiple instruments, writing songs, producing, and contributing vocals for the band's major label debut. That comfort with musical multitasking – and a cache of songs he'd written that didn't fit his main project – made a new solo effort seem like the natural and logical next step to take. Pfenning assumed the name Rewards (a moniker he's actually used since 2003), spent the better part of last year touring with We Are Scientists, Brandon Flowers and Warpaint, and released three broodingly romantic singles ("I Used To," "What a Loser" and the achingly beautiful "Two Cardinals") that made a host of listeners take sudden notice.
But Rewards is no one-trick pony, and his newest output is brighter than those previous cuts might lead you to expect. Less opaque and murky than its predecessors, "Equal Dreams" starts with upbeat percussion, great big handclaps and a creeping bassline that sounds anything but melancholic. The synths he weaves flicker around Solange Knowles's silky, sultry vocals and give the track a palpable sensuality. An instrumental version accompanies it, and rounds out side A.
"Asleep With the Lights On," with its classic synth pop arrangements, wouldn't be out of place on a shelf between OMD and Psychedelic Furs. Pfenning half-croons, half-whispers huskily and breathily, then stacks his vocals on the hooky chorus. This is the stuff of '80s teen dreams and timeless broken hearts. It seems fitting, then, that a reverb soaked guitar – provided by Lightspeed Champion, aka Blood Orange – plays the song out in a sequence of jangly, echoing, vaguely lonesome tones.
- Kali Holloway
Published: 2nd July 2011