Music

WhoMadeWho: Brighter

Brighter is the promised "pop" follow-up to the Danish electro-trio's more experimental Knee Deep EP. In striving toward a happy medium, it sells both sides a bit short.


WhoMadeWho

Brighter

Label: Kompakt
US Release Date: 2012-02-28
UK Release Date: 2012-02-17
Amazon
iTunes

In music, the danger of trying to find a happy medium is that "medium" all-too-easily becomes "mediocre" if you're not careful. The Danish trio WhoMadeWho seemed to be aware of this danger, and tried to avoid it altogether.

While recording the follow-up to their 2009 breakthrough The Plot, WhoMadeWho realized their music was beginning to expand beyond the sharp yet fairly easygoing electro pop/funk of their previous efforts. They decided to release the more "experimental", darker material separately. This became 2011's excellent Knee Deep EP, featuring a single of the year in "Every Minute Alone". The band promised more concise, pop-oriented material in the form of a full album in 2012. Hence Brighter.

But, despite the band's best intentions, the new album finds WhoMadeWho struggling to reconcile their moodiness with their pop tendencies. In other words, Brighter, consciously or not, sounds like a band trying to find a happy medium. And, while the result is definitely better than mediocre, it is nonetheless a bit disappointing given Knee Deep suggested WhoMadeWho were set to take a major leap forward. The songs on Brighter are shorter than those on Knee Deep, the arrangements tighter. But too many of them also seem hemmed in, as if they were meant to sprawl out beyond their four-minute running times and into something more out-there, more proggy, if that's not a dirty word.

Lead single "Inside World" is a glimpse of what may have been the original plan for Brighter. A quick, danceable, catchy track, it combines a motorik rhythm with bright synths and Jeppe Kjellberg's and Tomas Hoffding's warm yet arch vocals in efficient, effective fashion that suits a band signed to a label named Kompakt.

Little of what follows is as quick, danceable, or bright, though. That's not necessarily bad at all, especially when repeated plays reveal new hooks and melodies. This is moody music, too, and the atmosphere is rich and often rewarding. But much of Brighter suffers from a certain lack of inertia, as songs start out promisingly and then just kind of run in place. "Running Man" is a prime example, getting stuck in a reggae-meets-flamenco groove that soon becomes a rut. "The Divorce" has a tense synth-pop vibe that agreeably recalls mid-80s Depeche Mode, yet it too seems like it is trying to get somewhere it never arrives at. "Fireman" is hushed, mellow, and subtle until Hoffding breaks into a phat, growling bassline. Again, the signaled shift in dynamics never arrives, and the track fades back into the ether. Maybe that's the point, to surprise by what it doesn't do, but this seems like a case where WhoMadeWho would have been better served by loosening up some.

Still, several tracks on Brighter showcase the band's newfound maturity with success that needs no qualification. "Greyhound" takes a staccato sequencer figure and Kjellberg's deadpan crooning and gradually builds to a smart chorus and disco beat. "Head on My Pillow" employs the minor-key Depeche Mode sound to brilliant effect, the haunting, yearning chorus reminding you of just how affecting machine music can be. In another spin on a familiar, much-loved approach, "Skinny Dipping" offsets ethereal naval-gazing and wordless cooing with pure-funk bass that hits the middle of the song out of nowhere yet sounds right at home. That's right, a'la Radiohead.

The one unbridled experiment on Brighter is "The End". Actually the album's penultimate track, it combines a transporting, rather beautiful melody with synth wobbling and world-music percussion. It doesn't quite all come together, but it is fascinating nonetheless. Closer "Below the Cherry Moon", the album's lone six-minute track, still sounds like standard-issue 21st century post-punk fare by comparison.

One aspect that certainly works in favor of Brighter is the clear, immaculate, yet warm production. Within the overall stark tone, there is plenty of detail to be heard. WhoMadeWho know how to do synthpop right, in a way that holds respect for the past but never succumbs to a simple "retro" tag. This craftsmanship alone is nearly enough to convince you Brighter is something truly special.

It almost is. WhoMadeWho could still hit on their defining, transcendent moment if they embraced their restless spirit instead of skirting around it. Let the passion do the selling, boys. The pop will take care of itself.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.