This week South Australia’s Atlas Genius dropped their much awaited album When It Was Now. This comes after an acclaimed EP (reviewed HERE) called Through The Glass. It seems that this is becoming the norm for new bands now to first release an EP, then when the album is released, use the 3 or 4 best songs to build the album around. It worked for Foster the People, Grouplove, twenty|one|pilots, and Awolnation in the past couple years. So how does the album rank? Pretty decent, I have to say. At least two of the best songs on here are not on that EP.
The album starts with the new track “Electric”. It’s apparent right from the first few seconds these guys love the 80s. In a way somewhat similar to the group Phoenix, and even The Virgins to a degree, they blend some synth sounds of the past with their own upbeat alternative pop punch. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of 80s new wave and pop so I like this blend quite a bit. The song gets things started on the right foot. This is followed by what I am predicting to be the first runaway hit by these guys, “If So”. I say this because I’ve known the song for two weeks and I can’t get it dislodged from my head. At the moment there is a clip on YouTube of an acoustic slowed down version of this song, and while it’s a good performance it robs the track of its quirkiness. In fact the pace is a meeting of dancey new wave, maybe Talking Heads and first album Duran Duran meets now. Maybe throw in The Rapture also. The chorus is catchy as hell though, which always helps.
Next up is “Back Seat”, the first of the EP tracks, and one of the strongest. This one goes for a moodier vocal and mix but still has a slick beat and a sparse plucky guitar line that is much for the club as it is a rock song. “Trojans” follows, which is now about two years old, but was their strong first single the band tried to build some notoriety upon. And like the title, it sneaks its way into your head. The blend of the laid back vocal element and the driving beat of the music is a blend that totally works here.
“Through the Glass” is next. No, this wasn’t on the EP of the same name. Here the dance element is dropped and replaced with a synth wash that reminds me a bit of The Killers. “On A Day” returns to an 80s style beat, but this time the chorus has a keyboard hidden in there reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”. The harmonizing on the chorus is nice and this could possibly be one of their next singles. “Centered” comes along and has tinges of The Cure in the guitar and maybe even Scary Monsters-era Bowie in the beat. “Don’t Make A Scene” has a straightforward beat, handclaps, and many of the elements of the previous songs. It’s good, but doesn’t really stand out. “All These Girls” changes things up a bit, going a bit faster, a bit lighter, bouncier and is a standout from the second half. “When It was Now” is where they break out some vintagely bad keyboards and try to make them cool again, and it works.
“Symptoms” was the final song taken from the EP. This one has some dreamy guitar in it and feels like the audio version of a hazy daydream. The lyrics seem to reminisce about the way things once were in a relationship that has not become dysfunctional.
The only thing that brings this album down a bit is that most of the songs have somewhat vague lyrics about various states of a relationship. I’m sure there’s deeper meaning in there to the writer, but it comes off more like pretty vocal poetry. that’s not such a bad thing in context though. Most of the songs have a hazed and dazed feeling to them, so the vocals become part of the soundscape, with the melody itself being the hook more so than the actual words. However the bands’ sound feels very natural. You can tell these are people who get what was great about New Wave and have learned how to mix that with relevant alternative music. Where 80s bands overused the keyboards and relied on them, which became the undoing for many of them, Atlas Genius understands that keyboards can create an otherworldly atmosphere behind a bed of solid drums, funky bass and jangly guitar. I expect some really great things to come from this band in 2013.
By the way, if you want to read my review of the Through The Glass EP, it can be found HERE.
Here’s some video and audio from the album:
“Back Seat” (Live on Jimmy Kimmel)