Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. verses listeners in 'The Speed of Things' with effervescent electro pop

Warner Bros.

By Hannah Weiner, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 8, 2013

Listening to The Speed of Things will make one anxious. Not in a bad way, necessarily — more in a finger-tapping, leg-shaking, gotta-get-out-of-the-house-and-explore, “carpe diem” kind of way.

The Speed of Things

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Warner Bros.

Detroit natives Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein, better known as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., shaped their sophomore album around the idea of the accelerating rate at which everything moves nowadays. But these two aren’t curmudgeons by any means; featuring synth-driven pop music, The Speed of Things demonstrates itself as the perfect soundtrack for our generation’s craving for everything faster, everything bigger.

You know that quote from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” That’s the crux of The Speed of Things. Life moves fast — things, in general, move fast. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has attempted to stop and look around and asks us to do the same.

The band passes on wisdom in the form of adages sung over shimmering electro pop. Generally, all the tracks sound nuanced. But as a rule, they follow a simple formula: layered synths (some twang-y, some chiming) and high-energy drumming, with the occasional guitar. If you like this equation, The Speed of Things will work its magic on you, serving as the soundtrack for daytime occasions and lingering into the nighttime, too. And even if this isn’t your cup of tea, you’d still have to try to dislike this album.

Though it’s only the band’s second album, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has mastered the art of synthesized pop. Synthesized arpeggios, guitar riffs and dizzying synthesizer melodies (everything sandwiched in synths) accompany fairly standard electro-pop vocals on all 13 tracks. Songs like “Beautiful Dream,” “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On the Dancefloor)” and “Run” hasten your pulse as Zott and Epstein sing, “You’re supposed / to see your age rewind.” This idea of looking back to the past, embracing the present and considering the future dances its way through the remainder of the album.

While the group follows a straight line to wonderfully devised electro pop, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. dabbles in different styles of presenting its sound. “Dark Water” bears resemblances to Andrew Bird, featuring whistling, bizarre percussion and whirling vocals. “Run,” on the other hand, has perky synths and sounds like vocalist Nate Ruess of the band fun.

For two low-key guys who started off making basement-studio recordings in Royal Oak, Mich., a high-profile streaming in The New York Times and a backing from Warner Bros. Records must seem like a dream. Zott and Epstein evoke this surreal wistfulness in the album. The spinning world around them has proven to be effective music for effervescent electro pop.

In The Speed of Things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has nailed the idea of electronic landscapes worth an easy listen. The synth-based arrangements and dance-based beats sound effortless. Yet, even in relaxed songs, like “Mesopotamia” and “Gloria,” the peculiar percussion and scatterbrained synths will grab you by the shoulders, shake you and make you feel nostalgic for days when the speed of things wasn’t so damn fast.