Life has that strange idea that if you keep telling yourself something, lie or otherwise, you’ll start to believe it. Stand Up and Speak functions with that belief in mind, being both the angel and the devil on one’s shoulder. Instead of pitching something dialogue-rich, DJDS makes the angel of the equation repetitively announce hopes and dreams: the devil — or the perturbed soul, the one viewing the glass as half empty — casts doubt on situations. Love and togetherness become the central themes that go along with fear and desperation. The shame in the equation is that the simplicity of electronic melodies that lay behind these messages indicates that there must be better albums out there which convey the same thing better.
Ideally, as a piece to get the jog going, Stand Up and Speak realizes its potential, making it have enough build-ups to push one forward, while not exactly going for the limit or one’s threshold. Structurally, the album makes itself up to be an emotional story, one lacking in complexities that would make such a skeletal frame have its flesh. But that facet is not easy to gauge with the bare repetitions of phrase that have little in mind but cause those reluctant to view electronic music to roll their eyes, while also making prided veterans give DJDS’s effort the benefit of the doubt. The love and peace of mind that really wants to be executed is genuine in effort, but lacks the gusto that can distinguish it from the crowd.
That said, because the feelings within are genuine, the record’s tracks do merit a listen for the mere hope that they can actually brighten one’s day or cause one to stand up and dance; speaking or fighting is what DJDS want, but ultimately won’t get with the lacking charisma of Stand Up and Speak. “One Good Thing” and “You Don’t Have to Be Alone” start with their feel-good notes, a beautiful hum on the former and an upbeat piano on the latter. What they both have in common, especially when facing a commute that never seems to end, is the power to give one hope — that when one exits their car or train doors, there will be something that leads them to run. The gospel-like rhythms and small, yet likeable additions in crescendo, do these songs some justice, even with lyrics being hammered into one’s skull. It’s at least good that DJDS mix gossamer tones with darker, “heavier” ones.
There are times, however, when these dark switches become so focused in the background that they ultimately become transitions from radio stations needing a segue for the next remix track. While “In the Flames” asks the question of whether friends will be there when proverbial flames hit, the robotic rhythm and sidelined piano do little to become foreground pieces. Its capability to elicit fear comes in too little and too late. “Tell Me Why” has an issue with its length, one that might allow listeners to question a deeper facet to the track that is not actually there. Nothing truly sets up the title’s question and its constantly nagging repetition. Synths that feel cyber and romantic save the song from being more laborious than it is. And when change settles in, like in the vocally-focused “Something to Believe In”, the struggle to reach a sound like Major Lazer’s becomes futile. It also doesn’t help DJDS when they reach for ABAB structures, which demonstrate how boring a song like this can be.
Surprisingly, the second-half of Stand Up and Speak is better than its more self-serving first, especially once the rewinded “No Guarantees” leaves its pretentious, yet non-impactful mark. The title track incorporates a buzzing and mechanical melody, one akin to noise without being noise. The vocals elicit a togetherness within the song, and the slow tempo instrumentation takes is a nice touch along the hurrying drum beat. “Darling Cheryl” manages to demonstrate that the album’s focus on percussive variety is key to DJDS’s sound. The repetition that allays this song is endearing, with darkly deep beats that bring about the motivation within the falsetto-stained vocals. What “Darling Cheryl” demonstrates is a precursor of an idea that can be emotional hip-hop. It fixes the background-pitted “In the Flames”.
The story element, of course, needs a sort of faux redemption piece, which “I Don’t Love You” and “Found” try initiating. What story came together? you may ask. The skeleton of one, with you, the listener, being the protagonist who helps create the hope DJDS want to string together. Triumphant drums and changes of pace do their best to make each vocal pattern worth it. Yet no matter how many times each phrase is hammered in, the sticky noted-words slip and the breeze doesn’t bring about one’s second wind.