If you play African Elephants on repeat, you might be able to convince yourself it’s 1995. Dead to Me deals in the image-free, driving pop-punk that was both at the height of its powers and a commercial force 15 years ago. Songs like “Modern Muse” and “Bad Friends” deal in octave leads and churning power chords, and they come with their fair share of energy. But Dead to Me are at its most interesting and most perplexing when the band breaks from that mid-90s mold.
“Cruel World” slows everything down in the middle of the record, shifting the sound into overcast indie pop, and it works as a nice change from the vitriol. “I Dare You” carries this moodiness nicely into its punk grind. However, too many of the other shifts in sound and texture rest almost wholly on this influence. “X” sounds like the Clash’s take on reggae-infused punk, and “Liebe Liese” could have come straight from Give ‘Em Enough Rope. There are certainly worse muses to follow, but Dead to Me still struggle to separate from its heroes. African Elephants has plenty going for it, and the band should be commended for avoiding irony or building image here. Now, the band needs to pin down an identity.