Synthpop band makes good album, occasionally references '80s synth-pop. We swear this is not an Onion headline.
Falsework is Young Galaxy’s fifth album, and they pretty much have their thing figured out at this point. That thing is catchy, chirpy synthpop with occasional hints of Caribbean influence and anchored by lead singer Catherine McCandless’ warm, compelling vocals. This album doesn’t throw in any new wrinkles, unless you count blatantly referencing ‘80s synthpop sounds as a fresh idea. Fortunately, Young Galaxy are good songwriters and their relatively cheeriness makes Falsework a breezy, enjoyable listen.
The band’s previous album, Ultramarine, began with by far the record’s best track, “Pretty Boy”. Nothing on Falsework is as good as that song, but opener “Wear Out the Ground” is still one of this album’s strongest. The basic synth riff here is ear-catching and ably buttressed by an echo-style response and an interlocking bass figure. McCandless’ simple refrain, “Open your eyes / Close your eyes”, could easily be annoyingly repetitive, but the synths shift around underneath her, keeping the music from becoming stagnant.
“Factory Flaws” is a bright, fun song that digs into early ‘80s synthpop to great effect. It’s got bubbly-sounding synth bass, super-clean staccato electric guitars, sparingly deployed synth strings, and treble synths that shimmer all over the place. The band returns to the ‘80s for inspiration again near the end of the album. “Little Wave” begins with McCandless singing over a wobbly bass sound and a simple drum beat, but once the song opens up, the additional synths feel straight out of 1983. Penultimate track “Lean Into My Love” is a full-on synth R&B ballad that sounds like something Tina Turner would’ve done as a follow-up to “What’s Love Got to Do With It". Coming from me this would normally be an insult because boy do I hate “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, but Young Galaxy nail the feel of that style and era perfectly without doing a straight up ripoff. It’s also nice to hear McCandless do something a little different vocally, and “Lean Into My Love” is certainly that.
Elsewhere the band isn’t so specific with their style. “The Night Wants Us to Be Free” includes the aforementioned Caribbean influence, but the lyrics are full of oddness that makes everything a bit off-kilter. The refrain is nonsensical but entertaining; “Into the sound / of the sunset underground / Into the heart / Of a good ship blown apart." “Body” includes a dubstep-style wubba-wubba bassline, but the song over the top sounds more like an early '00s dance track. “Must Be Love” tries a bit of Afrobeat rhythm to give what is otherwise a standard dance-pop track more oomph. It works, sort of, in that it gives the song a good groove but doesn’t really anything else about the track.
Album closer “Pressure” is relatively subdued musically, which allows McCandless to take the full spotlight. This is a time when the whole track seems built around featuring and enhancing her vocals, which works quite well. It would help if the song itself had a little better melody and hook, but as a vocal feature it works well and ends the album on a slightly different feel, which is a good choice. And that’s the story of Falsework, really. It’s a good album from a good band making solid choices. There aren’t any egregious missteps here from track to track, but the best songs don’t really stand out that much either.