As cable television programmers will confess, there is nothing at all wrong with obsessing about the ‘80s. Think about it: networks like VH1 and E! profiteer recklessly from America’s cultural fascination for Reagan-Era pop stars. Honestly, how many times has E! run the Emmanuel Lewis True Hollywood Story? When will the lessons sink in?
Musically, an ‘80s obsession doesn’t hold the same fascination it once did. Electroclash, having achieved buzzword status, represents a trend that’s time has past. Dance-punk, a genre mixing dirty electronics and gruff punk guitar, never reached widespread critical acclaim outside of indie circles, and a recent crop of new entrants into the genre are merely churning out hackneyed beats. With the current decline of ‘80s inspired music, how does the Rapture, an original post-punk revival group famous for the dance beats found within their music, evolve while the sound that made them famous is going out of style?
On their new album, Echoes, the Rapture answer this question—and prove their own relevancy—by polishing up familiar dance-punk material and making it shine. This album shows the band focus their raw, unhinged energy into a more sleek and aerodynamic package. Before, listening to the Rapture’s muscular guitar playing might conjure up visions of a wild and free performance. Now, the band comes off a bit more calm and collected, and it pays off.
The change results mostly from a shift in style. Compared to the more angsty sound of the Rapture’s earlier album, Mirror, and other releases which mix rough-edged vocals, lock-step beats and frenzied guitar riffs, the focus of Echoes is on tracks driven by dance-friendly beats. The band, both thematically and lyrically, has always explored dark territory, but this time they seem to draw something from the dangerously decadent beats of someone like Tiga. The band’s much-hyped single, “House of Jealous Lovers ”—a tune that layers the increasingly uninhibited screaming of vocalist Luke Jenner over a rollicking bass line—headlines a collection of tracks landing all over the dance spectrum. “I Need Your Love” sees the group incorporating keyboards like a classic electro track, while a reworking of one of their older tracks, “Olio”, includes a drum line that recalls early Detroit techno and adds a hint of despair. The upbeat “Sister Savior”, featuring warm, layered keyboard tracks supporting the lyrics, faintly brings to mind the electronic pop of New Order.
The Rapture sounds more mature here, but that doesn’t mean the band has lost its notorious energy and drive. Most of the tracks featuring dance beats also contain infectious guitar hooks. “Heaven”, an engaging example of mechanized funk, is exhibit A in that regard. Moments of crashing guitars and screaming vocals that raise the music to a near panic pop up throughout Echoes, but they are better utilized this time around, while the raunchy guitar licks are more effective when used sparingly.
The more surprising moments happen when the Rapture let down their guard and attempt more traditional songwriting. “Love Is All” finds Jenner pleading that love is all he needs over instrumentals that feel like later-period Television. Alongside the darker “Infatuation”, a gloomy meditation on unrequited love, the band ends the album with a hint of things to come. While lyrics aren’t the bands strong suit by any means, these songs demonstrate a progression within the band’s songwriting from the screamed vocals found on some of the album’s other tracks.
The Rapture may be faulted for covering much of the same ground they have in the past. However, Echoes ultimately showcases a more sophisticated, restrained, and successful take on the fusion of guitar riffs and electronic beats. The reckless, wounded-heart abandon found in the lyrics, combined with the infectious grooves coursing throughout the album, still lead back to the dancing frenzy fans expect.
// Notes from the Road
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