Violens’ debut is baffling. They can produce a veritable smorgasbord of sounds, but it’s clear they’re not quite sure, much like their proggier and poppier peers Everything Everything, what to do with these sounds. There are more lovely pastiches and terrific tunes and magnificent textures here than most fit into two albums, let alone one, but there can always be too much of a good thing, and Violens are either trying to please everyone, or just trying to figure out how to please themselves.
Listening to tracks like euphoric first single “Acid Reign” and opener “The Dawn of Your Happiness”, it’s clear that Violens have a clear talent for something that most struggle with: an ear for a gorgeous melody. “Dawn of…” is an uplifting anthem, a promising opening track riding upon a reverb-ridden clang-fest of a backing track.“You lay awake beside me, troubled and afraid” they sympathise, but assure that “the dawn of your happiness is rising”. It sounds like hope trying to break through confusion and fear, and it’s unsure what comes out on top by the end, but the battle is an exhilarating one.
Something really exciting is “Full Collision”, a dreamy new wave jam that owes much to the melodic mastery of the Smiths, tainted by an eerie undercurrent of Joy Divisive reverb and uneasy chord changes. The track skips along at a carefree pace, hinting all the while at a storm brewing, one which eventually erupts in the final 60 seconds in terrifying yet gorgeous wall of guitars and huge pads. It’s quite an achievement in under 3 minutes. Followed by the aforementioned “Acid Reign”, Amoral’s opening 3 tracks is a triumphant psychedelic hat trick.
The successes of this opening trio of songs is that they each have a great song lurking underneath the endless feedback and complicated harmonies. As the album progresses, you realise it is the great song that made you sit up and pay attention, not the billion and one colours they paint with. Some tracks sound very pretty as they pass by, but trying to recall the chorus of any song past track 3 is a frustrating affair.
For some reason, it becomes certain sounds, hooks, and the odd ad-libbed melody that tend to stand out over the course of the album, rather than whole tracks. One remembers the pleasingly funky bassline that opens “Until It’s Unlit”, or the magical synth chords that twinkle in “Trance-Like Turn”, but easily forgets the unnecessarily noisy Beatles-esque plod of “Violent Sensation Descends” and the unfinished-sounding Animal Collective tribute that is “Could You Stand to Know?”. For every pleasing melody, Violens distract with a cloudy, overcrowded mix.
It’s a real shame, because enough credit cannot be given to Violens when they hold down a fragile melody, but they handle it henceforth like a bull in a china shop. It could be put down to a lack of identity, which is very evident, or even a lack of confidence in their own promising songwriting ability, but whatever the reason, Violens need to decide whether they are writing pop songs or experimental soundscapes. Some bands, indeed many of those mentioned in this review, can combine the two with panache, but until Violens learn to do one or the other with confidence, the results will always be as scatterbrained and self-indulgent as Amoral.