Bleachers – Gone Now (album review)

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(official artwork for the Gone Now album)

After the last torture I endured I thought I would give myself a break and listen to something completely new, hoping that the sense of discovery would cheer me up and draw me from the foul condition the last album left me in. I don’t feel like I quite achieved that with this album, but anything is a step up from the crap I sat through before.

So I had no idea who this band were prior to my “dart at the wall” approach to picking albums to review. As it turns out, they’re Indie Pop/New Wave band from New York who aren’t as good as their genre is interesting. Starting in 2014, they haven’t received much mainstream success yet – which does surprise me. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like they deserve more success, they just have that typical Imagine Dragons-wannabe sound that everybody seems to be going for these days and it’s disappointing to hear. As a die-hard fan of 80’s Pop and New Wave music, I had higher expectations of this band and I just feel disappointed.

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(listen to this instead, it’s a good album)

The album started off with a typical and acceptable dynamic, but as it went on it just began to sound more and more like some run-of-the-mill contemporary Pop album with nothing to differentiate it from what it is attempting to imitate, except for what felt like an embarrassingly poor approach to the mixing – evident in the dreadful sound of the kick drum, which remains throughout the whole album. It’s hard to explain, but as the opening song continued the production quality just kept falling. Listening to it, I felt the volume creeping up and down and the inconsistency just threw off the dynamic flow of the first few songs. Continuing through the album, everything just unravelled into an inadequate and poorly-performed mess, with the only original ideas sounding out of place and schizophrenic.

Every aspect was uninspired and a dull example of pure shoddiness, with everything close to good just being an almost direct copy of the aforementioned Imagine Dragons and everything bad just being a cheesy and embarrassing mess. It could be that I just don’t get this kind of mainstream sounding Pop shit, but I feel like it totally lacks any true identity – it seeming more like a reflection of modern Pop music than an actual project. Honestly, through the album I didn’t hear anything I particularly liked until the track Goodbye, and that was purely for the bass line – in fact, the bass line is the only thing I like in the song.

Like some of the albums I have previously reviewed, I just found this to be a really lazy album. With a severe lack of good and well-executed ideas and legitimately poor production in places, I would advocate giving it a pass and finding something better. If you want Indie Pop then listen to Imagine Dragons, if you want something cheesy and electronic then listen to The Ordinary Boys – both offer studio-quality albums and a more immersive and enjoyable feel. If you like commercial Indie Pop but don’t want to be associated with mainstream music because you’re too “alternative”, you should listen to this and then get over yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody else. With a total lack of identity, nothing to engage you in the album and generally awful sounding ideas, this release has proven to be a huge disappointment and a dreadfully boring example of mediocrity. The vocals sound like shit for most of the album too.

I See You – The XX (album review)

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(image taken from I See You official album cover)

If you have read my previous reviews you will probably begin to notice a pattern between the albums I have been reviewing – they are all recent releases from this year and vary from the more mainstream bands and acts. I wanted to address the balance in this review by looking towards a more well-established band, which drew me closer to The XX. For those who may not be aware of this band, The XX are an Electronic Indie group from London who have developed a reputation for their balance of experimentation and emotion, often focusing on personal themes such as insecurity and rejection.

Unlike my previous reviews, I have a pre-existing opinion on The XX – and it is generally a positive one! A number of years ago they were recommended to me alongside Bonobo, and this helped influence me into listening to a number of electronic acts and encouraged me down a path of more chilled and calm music – so at the beginning of this album I had my worries. The calm and emotional feel of Coexist and their self-titled album was a large part of why I loved this band so much and I felt like they were really easy to connect with on a personal level. The opening tracks of I See You seem to begin with a whole different dynamic, and though I can appreciate the attempt at variety, I feel it comes as a detriment to the album, given that it dismisses a large part of their individual appeal.

The band have always varied from traditional Pop music, in large part due to their emphasis on space and unusual effects and I can see that this effort still exists in this latest release, if to a far lesser degree, but I just don’t feel as strongly about the emotional content of the music as I previously did because, in my eyes, this album lacks the more organic feel the previous albums had. I feel like heavy effort has been made in this album to appeal to a more mainstream Pop audience by making the songs more predictable, but this could be a result of my own familiarity with their music. There are obvious exceptions to this statement, of course – such as their track Performance.

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(image sourced from official live promo webpage)

This next criticism is actually a pretty big deal for me, and that’s in regards to the flow of the songs. Again, this may be a result of my familiarity with the band – but I can see clearly how all of the songs either begin on a low dynamic and follow a rising gradient throughout the song, or they remain on the same low dynamic throughout the whole song. Saying that, however, I feel like the band does handle this well by optimising both vocalists to their ultimate potential and also incorporating wonderful use of atmospheric bass and various guitar layers.

As the album progresses, it shows clear signs of improvement as it settles into a style they are clearly more comfortable with and, though it does little to vary from their pre-existing sound, it does serve as a wonderful display of talent and fresh ideas – though tracks such as On Hold and Dangerous make me worry about the direction of the band. I have always been a fan of how the band handles flow, space and feeling and I feel like this album does much to showcase this, but I find it hard to recommend it over their previous albums. Still, fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy – and it is clear that they’re focussing more on the higher dynamics, more organic instrumentation in places and better production in most areas, which does give it enough variety to be worth the investment. I’d be unfair to dismiss that the band have definitely improved in almost eery technical basis, but I feel it came at the cost of heart and pure emotion.