Black Soul Strangers - Animate
Owain Paciuszko 24/07/2010
Irish quartet who are currently earning a reputation as a potential 'next big thing' unleash their debut album which has a breadth of production value evenly spread across the ten tracks which deliberately sets the band out as a 'next big thing'.
With opening track Panic Sets Direction starting out in the standard guitar-rock model before a satisfying thunder of synths raises expectations that aren't exactly met. Sure the track is well made and has some decent backing vocals, but it's a reasonably anonymous affair, part Manic Street Preachers at their most commercial, part twinkly stadium rock at double speed; a Keane 45 played at 72. Lies feels like The Killers covering Placebo, which may be a match made in Heaven for some. Again the production is superb on the track with wonderful subtle backing vocals punctuating moments beautifully, especially the bridges.
The Haunting is the de rigeur mellower third track, and cynicism aside, for all its Snow Patrolisms it's a pretty nice indie-ballad that builds into something a little raggedy and chart friendly with considerable skill. Lead singer Barry Gorey begins to sound like Travis's Fran Healy on the stomping anthem-like Monster which may sound like a crowd pleaser but doesn't earn its stripes through emotion, there's nothing here lyrically for the listener to latch on to, it kind of a lesson in why something like The Scientist by Coldplay is a great modern stadium pop song and why this isn't. Tristia has a delightful twinking vibraphonic pattern rattling throughout that shows that this band can pull something out of the bag to set themselves apart, the emotion even shows in Gorey's voice as he reminisces 'Oh, what a state I left you in.'
It's back to the bracing rock with the wall of fuzz early-Soulwax-esque start to Gallows, which would be the album's nadir if it wasn't for the distinctly disposable Wichita following it. After the chorus-heavy You Don't Need It the boys end the record with the quiet and restrained Harp, with Gorey doing his best Thom Yorke impression over a layering of the titular instrument before things give way and become a 'finale' filled with heavily pounded drumming that shifts into a 'danceable' off-beat. As much as it strives to be climactic and uplifting it winds up being forced and unnecessary, not going far enough to really serve its purpose as a grand finale and not be quiet and tender enough to be a bittersweet sign-off. It sits awkwardly in the middle as two opposing ideas unsure of the other.
Without trying to sound too cynical there's something deliberate about this record that puts me off of it, sure, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be the next Coldplay, but it shouldn't really happen by design. The feeling I'm left with upon listening to this record is of a talented group who can make a good, strong sound but haven't quite brought, on this record, the emotion and invention that would really set them apart. There's every chance they can go on to greater things based on this record, and if they can consistently show some of the smarts that popped up occasionally on a few of these tracks then greater things they will undoubtedly be. As far as debuts go this is reasonable but forgettable.