Love, Loss, and Nostalgia: BAO gets reflective on debut album Perpetual Heartbreak

Those familiar with LA-based electro-pop outfit Ming and Ping may have a particular sonic vision in mind for BAO’s debut album - BAO is the solo venture of Bao Vo, the producer and musical mind behind the duo’s sound. As a producer, Vo has worked with a number of other Asian-American artists, including the aforementioned Ming and Ping and Mariqueen Maandig Reznor, lead vocalist of How To Destroy Angels. Fans of his previous work who come to his solo work expecting the ‘80s new wave-influenced synth productions he’s been known for won’t be disappointed, but they will be asked to expand their horizons. 

In his first full-length offering Perpetual Heartbreak, BAO seeks to reach beyond his previous (extensive) production credits, and even beyond genre. The result is a 14-track album that ranges between full-length songs and dreamy, soundscape-inspired short pieces, all tied together by a sense of retro-inspired introspection.

In the blurb for the brand-new album, BAO says he wanted to create something that “showcases the beauty of imperfections”. Perpetual Heartbreak certainly does have a home-produced, personal feel to it. The lyrical subject matter follows suit, telling intimate tales of love, heartbreak, and family, all with a millennial-forlorn feel. Tracks like “We Never Say a Word” explore the intersection of culture and identity, with BAO referencing his Vietnamese heritage in context of his American upbringing. The bulk of the songs on the album weave short, longing stories of fraught relationships and existential angst. BAO’s lyrics float in between waves of synth-pop that does succeed in blending genre boundaries to an extent, but never quite leaves the electro-pop pool.

As the album flows on, alternating longer and shorter pieces, it’s apparent that BAO has stitched together nods to his genre influences throughout the entire tracklist. The opening songs are twinkly and nostalgic. Title track “Perpetual Heartbreak” deserves its headliner status - the tune features flute, harp, dulcimer-like tones and soft, mournful synth beds, showcasing BAO’s considerable chops as a producer. Later on, “Burn It Down”  starts with a solid new wave groove and resolves into a sassy danceable blend of R&B, funk, and disco - another testament to production ability. “Heavensent” winds down into lush, full harmonies, drawing on a sonic and lyrical softness and a different kind of emotionality. 

The final track on the album, “A Different Story”, ends on a brief and cautiously hopeful note, with BAO repeating “it’s not the end of the world, and you will wake up tomorrow…”. It’s a message of hope amidst loss, longing and chaos, and it speaks to the aim of Perpetual Heartbreak in its entirety. It’s also a reassuring lyric to leave us with as we end the album and venture back out into an extremely uncertain world. Much of Perpetual Heartbreak feels timely in this way. It’s longing for the past while being unsure of the future; but despite everything else, it is still hopeful.