Don't let the title fool you. Summer may not be here yet, but the soundtrack has arrived.
Black Sun, the debut album from the Australian quintet Gold Fields, does not offer anything terribly new. The band trades in sharp, propulsive, generally catchy indie dance-rock. Their sound is heavily informed by 1980s synthesizer pop. Specifically, Gold Fields project the kind of upscale melding of new wave and disco that Duran Duran perfected in the early 1980s. And, if Gold Fields are not quite as funky as Simon LeBon & co., they are not nearly as pretentious, either. No yachts and frolicking tropical excursions for these guys. Just songs about hanging out, girls and whatever else.
Honestly, Black Sun is not the type of music that begs close analysis of the lyric sheet. Whether consciously or not, Gold Fields have created an album whose pure, visceral pleasures are so effective they preclude much else. In other words, the title of Black Sun belies the fact it is the good-vibes, top-down soundtrack to the summer.
The band would probably be put off by the suggestion their music is merely "feel-good" fodder. In fact, the best parts of Black Sun earn their substance by being precisely so good at just that. "Disposable" music, when done this well and with this much heart, is not disposable at all.
Witness the trio of perfect dance-pop that opens Black Sun. The album starts right at the point where the roller coaster takes the final turn toward that first big, thrilling dive. "Meet My Friends" is so full of caution-to-the-wind, new wave energy you can practically feel the breeze in your hair. "Dark Again" adds a layer of sophistication and reserve, a synthesizer chugging along effortlessly as the propulsive rhythm kicks in and the guitars and synths begin to shimmer beneath Mark Robert Fuller's smooth, casually charismatic, voice, sounding like LeBon after a couple stiff cocktails have chilled him out.
As effective a rush as these first couple tracks produce, they're only setting the stage for "Treehouse". Musically and lyrically, the track captures the blissful naïvete of young romance. "She's gonna meet me there / She's gonna write her name on my arm", Fuller croons before the verse gives way to a summery, wordless coo of a chorus. Underneath, characteristically driving drums, causally funky bass, and smooth synths will get heads bopping in cars and bodies moving in nightclubs.
After such an opening rush, Black Sun would be hard-pressed to keep up the pace, and it doesn't. This results in disappointment at first, but listen again and you'll hear plenty of merit to Gold Fields' attempt to mix things up a bit. "Ice" is effectively moody, crystalline synth-pop, and the uptempo "You're Still Gone" uses a piercing guitar riff and that gurgling synth arpeggiator from "Rio" to convey a sense of unease amid the sunshine. Conversely, "Thunder" is as pure as pop can get, with a chorus that lifts your spirit while steering clear of pandering.
Not everything works, of course. Gold Fields' sound, with its propulsive tempos, smooth production, and polyrhythmic drums (the band includes a full-time percussionist), is so well-defined, things start sounding a bit too familiar before the album ends. In any case, "The Woods" is an ill-advised, full-on samba, and "Closest I Could Get" floats right over your head. Yeah, the rollercoaster loses some of its thrill after that first, epic plunge. But that doesn't stop you getting right back in line again.