I’ll let you in a on a little secret: the title of You Say Party! We Say Die!’s new album is actually Love. In fact, the album’s track list (i.e. “Make XXXX”) reads like a game of Mad Libs where the only acceptable word is “love”. As far as creative conceits go, it’s hardly inspired, but I’ll give them points for being cute. “Uninspired, but cute” is actually an accurate appraisal of YSP! WSD! as a whole. They haven’t matured a great deal beyond the early noughties’ new-wave/dance-punk movement that spawned them, and their most closely related peers have either called it quits (Pretty Girls Make Graves) or become painfully irrelevant (Hot Hot Heat).
The main reason XXXX succeeds is lead singer Becky Ninkovic. Her vocals lend the band’s music a sultry gravitas that elevates YSP! WSD! from charming retro band to something more sophisticated. Like Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, Ninkovic’s voice has a breathless, melancholic quality that is enchanting. The excellent opener “There Is XXXX (Within My Heart)” echoes not only Bat for Lashes’ most recent work, but also dance-punk’s most resilient warhorses Les Savy Fav. Unfortunately, this alluring blend of Ninkovic’s quivering vulnerability and the band’s rhythmic muscularity is rarely achieved elsewhere on XXXX.
“Laura Palmer’s Prom” is the dazzling centerpiece of XXXX. Even without that title, the song would still conjure up Lynchian locales with its swoony synths that simply ooze Angelo Badalamenti. Bassist Stephen Shea sounds like Peter Hook caught smack dab between Joy Division and New Order — gloomy drama giving way to new-wave bliss. For the duration of this song, Ninkovic personifies teenage romantic yearning. When she pleads “My heart needs a love dance,” you’d think she needed air or water. If it was 1983, this thing would be a massive hit.
“Glory” is an unabashed Ramones pastiche, but it works — mainly because it’s not at all what I would expect from YSP! WSD! The song even sports a ‘60s garage-rock sheen courtesy of Krista Loewen’s organ work. The slow-burning “Heart of Gold” drips with ‘90s alt-rock nostalgia and feels every bit like a love letter to, of all things, The Cranberries. Again, it succeeds by virtue of surprise, and by being a lovely tune, of course. A few more detours like “Glory” and “Heart of Gold” could have made XXXX a more interesting album and YSP! WSD! a more interesting band.
Too much of XXXX is spent recycling tired dance-punk moves for it to succeed as a whole. Songs like “Dark Days” and “Cosmic Wanship Avengers” feel hollow and awkward. When the album does work as on “Laura Palmer’s Prom” and “There Is XXXX (Within My Heart)”, the band soars. In these moments, YSP! WSD! sound confident and vital, but confidence can only get you so far. I can’t shake the feeling that You Say Party! We Say Die! has an expiration date stamped on their collective ass. If they don’t evolve in some way soon, they’re doomed to end up on the scrap heap of the ‘00s.