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

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image