In the realm of music writing the hardest reviews to write aren’t about the cathartic masterpieces that change our lives and sculpt our musical tastes. They aren’t for the shameful, ill-fated albums that find the listener scraping down chalkboards with sharpened fingernails for some semblance of relief. They are the albums that don’t inspire anything. The records that are neither here nor there, which beg for neither love nor hate, and stir little more than a mild apathy in the listener.
Unfortunately for French, folktronica duo Aswefall, their debut Bleed falls under this category. Paris-based Clement Vache and Leo Hellden seem to be looking to capitalize on the new wave/electro revival that’s snaked its way into the mainstream over the past year or two. But while bands like The Killers have come to forefront of this revitalization by applying the influence of the genre to a fresh sound, Aswefall are content in just taking us for a visit back to 1987… and it looks as though they’re going to stay a while.
Bleed begins with the lovesick ballad “Between Us”. Harmonica croons over a steadfast tambourine thump as a female vocalist sings predictable lyrics about a faraway love: “The tears they float/ Away with the sea/ Away with the sea/ The sea that lies between you and me.”
“Between Us” fades nicely into the promising “As I Fall”, a well developed electro-pop track with a driving bass line. As “As I Fall” progresses, however, it feels notably vacant. In fact, several of the instrumental tracks on the album share this same sentiment. It feels as though there was a vocal track, but it was inexplicably cut in post-production. This vacancy leaves songs like “As I Fall” and “Poussiere” feeling less prominent than they should and struggling to hold their own against some of the other songs on the album.
By contrast, vocal-laden tracks like “Take Me With You” and “Youngeez” do little more than reminisce about the less than finer times on the dance floor in the ‘80s. The rudimentary beats and bass lines that are meant to drive the songs fall short and while the sparsely placed guitar is effective, it doesn’t provide the punch that would be necessary to make these tracks what they could and should have been.
“A Game We Play”, an artful French/English duet, stands out as Bleed’s defining track. A loose tribal beat swims underwater beneath the vocalists’ dueling coos. Faint synths drift through the background filling out the song beautifully.
It isn’t the overall production that could doom Bleed to obscurity. Hellden, who does most of the production and has worked with the likes of Jay Jay Johnson and Alex Kid, produced the album reasonably well. The album’s organization and the song arrangements, on the other hand, don’t fair so well. Some tracks are far too busy. Others are too repetitive and spacey. And yet others just don’t blend well with the tracks that precede or follow them, leading to a sometimes jarring and unnatural flow to the album.
Some records get better over time, slowly unfurling their nuances and intricacies. Some lose their luster as their weaknesses begin to show through more and more clearly as time passes. Albums like Bleed remain in limbo, their strengths and flaws canceling each other out leaving them suffering from a banality that leaves their listeners with little more to say than “eh”.