Everything Is Debatable

Written by: TL on 17/12/2013 21:28:53

It's unclear to me how Hellogoodbye, poppy as the project always was, somehow became a band that was all the rage in my teenage emo circles back around 2005, even before the "Here In Your Arms" single went everywhere and then platinum in 2007, topping charts in music channels while those still actually had charts. The revolving door project centered around Huntington Beach songwriter Forrest Kline was pretty much Owl City before Owl City was Owl City and you couldn't even call them pop-punk without emphasising the POP so much that it almost overshadowed the... What was that suffix again? Still the band had caught on with an alternative crowd first, at least around here, and while loads of those people had already lost interest when "Would It Kill You" came around in 2010 and pre-empted the current analogue trend by substituting many of the cutesy electronics with organic instrumentation, the album made critics and music nerds embrace the band relatively universally.

The reason I bother to explain this is that I expect to field some questions when you hear the new album "Everything Is Debatable", sounding along the lines of "why is ROCKfreaks reviewing this?", because on their newest opus Kline and friends not only consolidate his original interest in electronic chimes and noises with "Would It Kill You"'s more "real" instruments, they also have the band at its poppiest ever, striking me as a midpoint between "emopop" bands like Panic! At The Disco, Forgive Durden and I Can Make A Mess on the one side and indie-pop acts like MGMT, Air Bag One and Vampire Weekend on the other.

The short version of that is that every conventional rock'n'roller will likely shun "Everything Is Debatable" as a record clearly aimed at a hipper and more chillaxed audience, but that is their loss to an extent, as Hellogoodbye waste little time on this album before establishing that they're still dependably growing some wickedly catchy tunes there in their borderland between pop, indie and rock. The synths and bells and elated vocal melodies that ring in opener "And Everything Becomes A Blur" are barely finished with reminding you of "Pretty. Odd"-era Panic At The Disco before the lead single and title track comes around with funky electronic beat and vocal effects that has HGB sounding a bit like either Air Bag One or The 1975. At track two, this is an early main highlight for the album, primarily via the strong falsetto melody, the sexy rhythms and the many interwoven details.

The title track thus opens up a solid early part of the album on which Kline flashes his deftness with ear-catching electronic effects, good rhythm dynamics and a sharp, recognisable vocal that reminds me most of Forgive Durdens' Thomas Dutton. "The Magic Hour Is Now" and "Swear You're In Love" follow like pearls on a string and each put melodies and recognisable refrains in your head in a way that's pretty characteristic for the record overall, even if it does seem to loosen its grip on the listener moving across the middle. The main reason for this I think lies in an unusual contrast: As elegant as Kline proves to be in constructing and arranging a sound that's dynamic and.. well.. somewhat cooler-than-thou, his talents here seem somewhat let down by the laid-back pop structures and routine vocal delivery.

The soundscape is thus fascinating but the songs don't go anywhere particularly surprising or dramatic, and similarly, while the singing is characteristic, the delivery hasn't got the urgency or vividity to really get the listener to commit to the hooks or take interest in the lyrics. It's almost frustrating, but despite "Everything Is Debatable"'s obvious strengths, it fails to grow from its relaxed poppyness into something where it feels like anything is really at risk. Instead it feels mainly like "merely" a rich and fun stylistic exercise - one that's catchy, yet superficial, and one that misses the fact that people connected with "Here In Your Arms" and "Shimmy..." not just because of the melodies, but also because those had an anxiety at heart you instantly related to. So while Hellogoodbye is solidifying their position as a dependable option for the pop fans that are too discerning to just go with what's on Top40 radio, I can't help but to feel like something's been lost to them along the way.


Download: (Everything Is) Debatable, Swear You're In Love
For The Fans Of: Air Bag One, MGMT, Panic! At The Disco, Walk The Moon, Vampire Weekend
Listen: facebook.com/hellogoodbyeband

Release Date 29.10.2013
Wasted Summer

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