The Wombats: This Modern Glitch

The Wombats
This Modern Glitch
Bright Antenna

Britain’s Wombats are throwing a dance party, and desperately want you to join in the festivities. Despite its frequently-mopey lyrics, the trio’s second album This Modern Glitch is a bright, shiny thing, a reflection of the group’s newfound fascination with synths as well as the sonic manifestation of the sheer existential joy of being in an upwardly-mobile rock ensemble. Transparently crafted as the soundtrack to some endless indie disco night, This Modern Glitch is undoubtedly a good time record.

Trouble is, this vibe comes off as rather forced. This Modern Glitch exudes an oppressively artificial air all over due to its overglossed production, the sort generally reserved for today’s mainstream dance-pop. As the album instantly hits you with an overcompressed diamond-hard wall of sound buttressed by body-shaking, blown-out bass and piercing treble, you can practically hear the recording costs being punched into a calculator. Subtle, this record is not.

Whatever you think of contemporary commercial dance music, it’s clear regardless that the production techniques utilized on This Modern Glitch are ill-suited to the Liverpool-based indie rockers. Instead of being a magical combination of the best of both worlds as the band intends (the sort mastered by alternative dance predecessors Primal Scream and its ilk), the music’s rigid angularity as typified by opening salvo “Our Perfect Disease” is more comparable to bad Bloc Party, except with more shouting. The only dancing suited to accompany this record is self-conscious indie-kid robotic jerks and bouncing. What the Wombats have engaged in is an academic attempt to craft dance-informed rock music, one that ticks the proper boxes on a conceptual level without actually being practical. Furthermore, the group doesn’t utilize its wares in the best manner, as efforts to add variety to its arrangements end up being overly fussy and cluttered.

Divorced from the polished production and jacked-up volume, the songs themselves are slight and unremarkable, with melodies that are too often wiped from the memory once the next track starts. Singing ‘Bat Matthew Murphy does his damnedest to distinguish the group’s compositions with euphoric vocal melodies that manage to lift cuts such as “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)” and “Walking Disasters” above their humdrum natures. His lyrics, however, suggest that the celebratory music is intended to exalt the virtues of introverted miserablism and defeatism, questionable causes both. For instance, the blatantly anthemic “Last Night I Dreamt . . .” makes visions of dying alone sound like a triumph, while “1996” — featuring an annoying siren hook and drums straight out of the Human League’s “Human” — presents nostalgic yearning for those bygone “teenage kicks” as a fantastic way to spend time. Murphy’s words cast This Modern Glitch as a feel-good justification for fans to indulge in insular self-absorption, which can be extremely off-putting to anyone who doesn’t believe listless 20-something indie folk to be the center of the universe. Even if you are partial to the ‘Bats charms, the album’s combination of misanthrope lyrics and party-hearty exhilaration will seem jarringly incongruous, even moreso than on the band’s 2007 hit “Let’s Dance to Joy Division”.

This Modern Glitch isn’t a bad album per se — the only outright horrendous thing to be found is the tacked-on closer “Schumacher the Champagne’s” farting synth shuffle beat. However, the album is one that doesn’t hit the mark. It fails in the execution of its most basic concept, it manages to be simultaneously po-faced and frivolous, and its tracks never quite make it into the above-average rank. The Wombats may have had a ball making this record, but their heavy-handed efforts to spread the joy to everyone else via the overapplied production aren’t justified by the content.

RATING 4 / 10
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.