Lake Street Dive 2024
Photo: Shervin Lainez / Kartel Music Group

Lake Street Dive Create Obligatory Fun on ‘Good Together’

While Lake Street Dive trot out their funk and soul instrumentation on Good Together, the record has few genuinely fun or moving moments.

Good Together
Lake Street Dive
21 June 2024

In a season four episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Captain Raymond Holt attempts to throw a party to boost his staff’s morale. When his subordinates stare at him blankly, he shouts, “Why is nobody having a good time? I specifically requested it!”

That’s what it’s like listening to Lake Street Dive‘s latest studio album, Good Together. The Brooklyn outfit trots out a litany of Fun Band Tricks: the shout chorus, the funk beat, the snappy backing vocals. But, while Lake Street Dive’s brand of wholesome pop-soul compelled us to get out of our seats and dance on early efforts like Bad Self-Portraits, the new LP lacks spirit. This record will not be particularly persuasive for listeners not already in Lake Street Dive’s camp.

Most of Good Together’s shortcomings can be traced to arrangement and production choices. “Help Is on the Way”, for example, is hamstrung by Bridget Kearny’s use of the double bass. Meanwhile, her Motown-rooted parts create a solid groove on tracks where she plays electric (such as “Dance with a Stranger”); the upright bass is too quiet in the mix and does not resonate sufficiently to fill out “Help”. As a result, the track feels unsupported, especially during Akie Bermiss’ keyboard solo. Kearny is an excellent bass player, but the recording does not allow her work to be fully effective.

Or, take Good Together’s many left turns. “Walking Uphill”, which opens as a mellow number, introduces a grating full-band accent in the chorus. Most vexingly, the final iteration of the chorus lacks this intrusion, showing that there is a better version of the song within reach. The track ends in an uplifting, satisfying way; Lake Street Dive know how to make that chorus good, but they just chose not to.

See also: “Better Not Tell You”, which acquits itself well for most of the track (except for the unnecessary drop into half-time at the end of the chorus). However, the song skids to a halt for a middle-eight that adds little to the song’s arc except to create a low point for the chorus to return triumphantly.

The overarching concern with the aforementioned tracks is that production choices feel arbitrary; rather than being grounded in feeling or a track’s narrative momentum, they seem like contrivances to break up the monotony of polite midtempo grooves. In a few instances, the band break out of these doldrums successfully, such as the short bass/vocal breaks before the chorus in “Dance With a Stranger”, or the genuinely enjoyable chorus of “Far Gone” and its compelling drop into the pared-back verses. However, on balance, the arrangements sound more like a question: aren’t we a fun band?

Good Together shines brightest in its two ballads. Both “Twenty-Five” and “Set Sail (Prometheus and Eros)” evoke actual emotion; the lyrics lead the arrangement as the dynamics carefully support the narrative. I believe these songs, particularly “Twenty-Five” and the summer romance at its heart; vocalist Rachel Price sounds genuinely moved, and Bermiss carefully follows each of her small changes in vocal inflection. The song, vocalist, and instrumentalist are all supporting one another.

The ballads indicate that Lake Street Dive can write a good song and record it well. The rest of the repertoire shows that they can combine this skill with full, rambunctious arrangements to produce an LP that is evocative at any tempo. Good Together lacks that marriage between instrumentation and meaning, resulting in an album that feels obligatory rather than urgent.

RATING 4 / 10