Swedish post-punk revivalists deliver a few killer tracks, but then start to repeat themselves on their sophomore album.
Label: Captured Tracks
US Release Date: 2013-09-03
UK Release Date: 2013-09-09
The first few tracks on Forever, the second record by the Swedish band Holograms, will make many listeners feel like they've died and gone to post-punk heaven.
All the elements are there--ringing guitars, propulsive rhythms, ghostly synths and soaring vocals that hit just the right balance of sneer and whine (and with a European accent to boot!). At its best, Forever delivers the kind of songs you want to crank with the windows down as you speed on a lonely highway. Unfortunately, the momentum soon fizzles out, and Forever becomes frustratingly repetitive, making this a so-so record by a band that has the ability to make an excellent one.
Holograms, a quartet whose members come from working-class towns near Stockholm, made a splash in 2012 with its self-titled debut, which brought a contemporary edge and aggression to the classic post-punk sound. After an expansive tour that gave the band exposure but left its members exhausted and nearly broke, the band regrouped and went to work on Forever. Unsurprisingly, the album has a gloomy, angsty, us-against-the-world feel to it, and early on, that works very well. “A Sacred State” and “Flesh and Bone” make for a fantastic opening combo: spiky anthems that would have fit perfectly on an early ’80s mixtape, sandwiched between, say, U2’s “I Will Follow” and Joy Division’s “Disorder”. Vocalist/bassist Andreas Lagerström belts out these songs as if trying to bring the very heavens down, and guitarist Anton Spetze brandishes fevered riffs like daggers.
“Meditations” is another highlight, boasting a fierce runaway-train groove courtesy of Spetze and drummer Anton Strandberg. Lagerström, meanwhile, howls a chorus that sounds a lot like “Destruction! Destruction! Destruction”, though there’s some debate online about what he’s actually saying there. In the end, it doesn’t really matter; the sheer force of Lagerström’s impassioned wail carries us through the song.
At this point, Forever seems destined to be a worthy companion piece to Silence Yourself, the fierce debut by the British band Savages that also mines post-punk terrain. Alas, it’s not to be. The remaining songs on Forever exhibit a dreary sameness, as the band settles for producing hair-splitting variations on the post-punk template. What sounded so cool earlier begins to fray the nerves (including Lagerström’s singing, which never deviates from its “arena” setting). Spetze delivers the occasional fresh jolt with his blistering guitar work, and the band’s overall energy level remains high, but the lack of sonic differentiation really sinks this effort.
It’s disappointing because Holograms has the tools to produce some great music. For its next record, I’d love to see Holograms use the post-punk model just as a starting point, a springboard to new sounds, new moods and new textures. Change tempos, add some humor, or maybe some bluesy guitar crunch. If Holograms can broaden its sound a bit, the band might very well produce a record that excites from start to finish.