The Glitch Mob have the misfortune of association with fellow Los Angeles DJ Flying Lotus, whose new album Cosmogramma has taken critics and audiences by storm. They have also established a reputation in their native city for hard-hitting hip-hop remixes that light up the dancefloor. Neither of these qualities ought to be a disadvantage, but the group’s new album Drink the Sea, mediocre by any criteria, pales all the more by contrast. The appropriate moment for these watery anthems, equally distant from the timeless density of brainier producers and the gritty opportunism of a club banger, is ambiguous at best.
Thumping, serious numbers like “Bad Wings” go nowhere, and they take their time getting there. The album picks up little momentum to speak of, though over the course of an hour the Glitch Mob set a steady, plodding pace that ingrains itself into the listener’s attentions. By the time the enthusiastic “Drive It Like You Stole It” plays at track eight, the stuttering melody lines weave and spin through the blasts of synthesizer and the self-important bass pulse with a certain irresistible eloquence. Occasional moments of gratification like this one, or the elemental breakdown in “Animus Vox” are born of an infectious if childish sincerity, much of which rides on the Glitch Mob’s shameless and rather conspicuous songwriting sensibilities.
The worst product of the group’s indulgences is perhaps the pretentiously-named “Starve the Ego, Feed the Soul”, a veritable ballad with soaring, warbling tenor lines and a loping, colorless rhythm which imposes itself upon the listener for an expansive six minutes. Drink the Sea falls neatly into one of the most typical traps to which an electronic album is prone—it fails to consolidate the cold detachment of digital production with anything of substance. There is neither sneer nor wail to be heard. The robotic lilting of featured vocalist Swan on “Between Two Points” gives the track a fresh depth, especially when the DJs flex their sonic muscles and feed the ear a bit of savory with the sweet, but most of the album lacks such give and take and even here it falters short of ingenuity.
“Fortune Days”, too, makes a promise it doesn’t keep, repeatedly dropping the slightly fragmented violins just as they begin to coalesce into something worth hearing. A thick, monolithic synth line surges to the head, and the tight military drumming subsides into tired tribal palpitations. Even so, the track is one of the best on the album, evidence for the diversity and flexibility of the Glitch Mob’s sonic palette. “Fortune Days” also gives an inkling of Drink the Sea‘s ideal context. One can just hear the overbearing synth riff blaring out of a car stereo, crashing over everything in its path behind the beats’ gallop and march.
The group’s first album is thus composed of weak ideas executed with a modicum of style. Most listeners could enjoy the sententious writhing of a song like “Fistful of Silence” given the right mood and situation. The problem is finding such a time and place, and after extended exposure to Drink the Sea, one has the feeling that the search isn’t worth the effort.
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