The Sounds - Something to Die For
Record Label: SideOneDummy
Release Date: March 29, 2011
I've always found it highly intriguing and fascinating to hear the development of a group of musicians as they initially begin to find their feet and develop a signature sound that many will inevitably associate them with for years thereafter. For Swedish quintet, The Sounds, their debut and sophomore releases saw the band explore consistently upbeat and highly energetic new wave territory that incorporated an abundance of playfulness and attitude. However, 2009's Crossing the Rubicon offered more of an admittedly brief and infrequently tantalizing glimpse into what the group could achieve when they looked to incorporate flourishes of folk influences and mercifully mood-breaking ballads to stand alongside their new wave counterparts. Lyrically, it chose to highlight and reflect upon such candid topics as abusive relationships and underlying nostalgia which gave Crossing the Rubicon the immeasurably important ability to resonate with those of whom gave it forty minutes of their time. One would have thought they would continue to naturally progress musically towards a more subdued, ambitious and restrained direction similar to what could be heard and located on their previous album, but alas, if you were to come into the band's fourth full-length, Something to Die For hoping and expecting for a more refined, polished and competent follow-up to its predecessor - you're likely to have a difficult time trying to locate it.
Instead, Something to Die For marks a pleasant return to the simplistic arrangements, glistening production and energetic up-tempo numbers that propelled them to a reasonable amount of fame, accolades and success originally. Keyboards and synthesizers are incorporated into the majority of the tracks in order to heighten the danceability and enjoyment factors, and it works quite well with lead vocalist Maja Ivarsson showcasing her formidable vocal prowess to exceptional effect. The album as a whole features lovely and enticing layered vocals that are ever prominent despite the electronic beats, the melodies are able to blossom when they're given adequate opportunity to do so, and the songs themselves appear to have an anthemic presence and atmosphere surrounding them. Despite that, the hooks are slightly disappointing and even at times non-existent, the usage of programming and synths is a welcome addition but when every individual track is saturated in the same indistinguishable beats and structures it can become tiresome after repeat listens, and the record can also suffer from a lack of musical cohesiveness towards the latter portions.
The first foray and glimpse into the direction The Sounds have chosen to incorporate throughout the duration of Something to Die For comes in the form of the two and a half minute album opener, "It's So Easy". It essentially serves as a brief introduction to welcome the exuberant bass lines and heavy synth and keyboard driven sound that soon noticeably becomes the underlying instrumentation after the guitars appear merely an afterthought. There's certainly nothing original occurring here, but it's an uplifting and energetic beginning to the record as Ivarsson sings delicately, "It's so easy when you know how it's done / you've got to seize the moment before it's gone". The song gradually builds in intensity and momentum with the assistance of gorgeously layered backing vocal harmonies until the track slowly fades to its inaudible finish. Second single "Dance With the Devil" proves to be an early album highlight for it's instantly accessible and infectiously catchy. The opening verse is full of vibrant and rhythmic energy as club beats and multi-layered guitar chords guide and drive the song at a frenetic pace and intensity. Ivarsson once again sounds lovely, but the distorted male backing vocals and the poorly constructed lyrics prevent "Dancing With the Devil" from becoming one of the finest and most memorable songs in The Sounds' back catalog since their breakthrough debut, Living In America.
No doubt there will be fans potentially disappointed with the added electronic and dance influences, but thankfully and fortunately The Sounds have also created a couple of straightforward pop/rock songs that older fans should be delighted to hear. "The No No Song" kicks off with distorted guitar strumming and pulsating drumbeats that are ever present during the opening verse before the vocals are delivered with aggression and enthusiastic attitude. Despite the variation in sound from the opening two tracks, the song never really capitalizes on the energy it's able to build during the opening verse. Consequently, the momentum is never heightened and when you expect the final chorus to soar with conviction, it unfortunately falls decisively flat. Perhaps the biggest and most enticing hook you'll find on the record comes during the chorus of "Diana" where Ivarsson delivers arguably her most compelling vocal performance aside from the superb album closer "Wish You Were Here". It contains and features glossy hooks, layered harmonization and irresistible melodies that rise with power and cascade with elegance as she sings with confidence and style, "Diana, why don't you stay with me tonight? / Diana, you always leave in the morning light / I know it's me you're looking for / Diana, you never play by the rules". The lyrics can be considered unoriginal and far from absorbing, but The Sounds have never been known and recognized for their complex songwriting.
Towards the latter stages of the record the electronic influence is slightly more subdued and less prominent which allows the album to showcase its versatility. "Won't Let Them Tear Us Apart" features another excellent chorus and playful interplay during the chanted verses. "The Best of Me" contains a beautiful up-tempo keyboard driven opening that soon leads into an enormous chorus full of vulnerably delivered lyrics of perseverance and optimism as is best exemplified when Ivarsson sings with emotion, "It's hard when it's hurting but I can leave this thing behind / you've got to trust me and hold on / we've got to slow down, baby, because we're still young". The song manages to capture a lovely uplifting atmosphere that enables it to stand out as one of the best individual tracks that Something to Die For has to offer. Album closer "Wish You Were Here" ends the album wonderfully with a slow building acoustic ballad that effortlessly showcases Ivarsson's profound vocal prowess. It has a haunting and intricate quality surrounding it as the song culminates in emotion with the final yearning lyric being sung - an optimistic yet painfully delivered, "I wish you were here".
Something to Die For contains some lovely tracks but there's also a sizable element of emptiness when it comes to overall cohesiveness. It's obvious that The Sounds wish to evolve, but this ten track effort suggests they're yet to decide which direction they wish the aforementioned evolution to occur. The record as a substantial body of work comes complete with up-tempo numbers that are danceable but without an enticing hook, a few straightforward pop/rock tunes with tremendous choruses, and an album ending ballad that renders the album slightly indifferent, inconsistent and lacking an underlying direction and purpose. With that being said, if you're looking for a dance/pop album with frequent sing-along moments, Something to Die For should be directly up your avenue.
I honestly really enjoy this record. I know a 68% looks bad, but it's basically 7/10 which is still a good score. I just think the lack of cohesiveness and overuse of synth kind of brought the score down slightly. I still love this album though, I'm sorry!
nooo, thats dog shit dude. You should check your facts..
Haha, you two are making me want to bump the score up a little. Was I being too harsh with it? I just know they have an abundance of potential. They're getting closer each album to creating something tremendous.
props to jason for hiring you. your now my favourite reviewer so dont take this the wrong way but have you ever thought about writing somewhere different? ap just doesnt seem the right fit for your writing. pitchfork maybe? anyway another great review. score is a bit low but can't argue about the way its written.