If you know of Styrofoam (aka Arne Van Petegem) at all, it's likely from "Couches in Alleys," his indelible 2004 collaboration with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, or perhaps from his remix of the Postal Service's "Nothing Better." Like the Postal Service, Styrofoam is a solo project that frequently enlists indie-rock vocalists to lend a human face to twee electronic compositions.
The strategy, of course, has its liabilities: Recognizable voices may attract listeners, especially those not prone to digging through Morr Music's back catalog, but they also threaten to overshadow the man behind the LCD curtain.
So maybe tapping B-listers for A Thousand Words was actually a shrewd maneuver on Van Petegem's part. The biggest name here is Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, and he doesn't exactly bleed dangerous amounts of charisma or lyrical acuity on the rote ballad "My Next Mistake." The duet "Microscope" succeeds despite the belabored titular metaphor, thanks to the zirconium-perfect voice of the Submarines' Blake Hazard and Van Petegem's rejoindering chorus.
In fact, the best songs are sung by Van Petegem himself. Album opener "After Sunset" is nearly as kinetic and sweeping as any Postal Service song, with Van Petegem's able but not showy voice leading a busy mix of gently rocking breakbeat, stretchy synth bass, virtual studio sounds, and cascading guitars. "Other Side of Town" begins as a carefree joyride ("I stole your bike/and rode/it all along the riverside"), percolating and flitting before turning into a bittersweet, longing chorus. "Bright Red Helmet" starts slow but erupts into a giddy "ba ba ba da da" chorus surrounded by quick synth arpeggios, and the burst of momentum keeps the track coasting to its conclusion.
Styrofoam may not eclipse his most famous friends anytime soon, but A Thousand Words proves he can at least hold his own against plenty of other indie darlings.
Styrofoam play Sat June 14, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $10 adv/$12 DOS, 21+. With Broken Spindles, Sensory Effect.