Of the many styles and genres that have been thoroughly rinsed by now, ’80s-referencing “alternative”-grounded synthpop must be among the lead contenders. The last two or three years have brought us so much airy landfill – Passion Pit to the left of us, the Temper Trap to the right, Miike Snow in the rear view mirror – that you really have to be doing something special to gain a fair hearing.
Into the arena march Boston’s Hooray For Earth, to all intents and purposes the band identity of Noel Heroux. While his recent CV – working on this album with noise-pop duo Zambri and touring with The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Cymbals Eat Guitars – doesn’t suggest someone satisfied with staying within stylistic lines, True Loves betrays a primary coloured fluorescent ambition in size of sound that stretches far beyond the club night support circuit and towards those same forebears’ radio-worthiness (as anyone who’s seen the title track’s extraordinary high concept video will attest), while at the same time working in effects round the edges that subtly manouevure it away from anything so crass.
That surface ambition may not be the initial impression gained from opener ‘Realize It’s Not The Sun’, coming across as Twin Shadow on a bigger budget – minimally arranged machine beats and looped, sequenced patterns creating a haunted atmosphere for Heroux’s mildly falsetto, not entirely cocksure vocal inflections. Similarly when the Brandon Flowers express delivery arena synths do arrive they often come with a caveat beyond easy access. ‘Last Minute’ may get submerged halfway through by a tidal wave which threatens to turn it into a minor league Killers, but there’s also grounding not just from the vocal tone but also the Motown drumbeat which is matched by a big pulsing bassline and topped by a pretty harpsichord-like keyboard motif that both feature before the arrival of those synths. Similarly the title track again has those soaring effects in full, but interrupts them with skittish beats, huge sub-bass, NASA bleeps and hints of something weightier and graver, making the whole thing sound on edge in its own way. By the time we get to the big reaching-for-the-sky hooks of ‘Sails’ and ‘Same’ though, it’s full steam towards replacing ‘Sweet Disposition’ as the TV trailer incidental music of choice.
It’s as the album enters its second half that it becomes clearer that rather (yet) than being MGMT-style eclecticists Heroux and co haven’t quite worked out the central anchor around which their sound percolates. ‘Hotel’ tries a little bit of everything – from surging choruses to pensive build-and-release via deep layers of instrumentation and 8-bit effects – without ever working out where its central hook should be. ‘No Love’ proves Heroux has heard the second Yeasayer album. ‘Black Trees’, the nearly tribal percussion-driven six minute long closer, proves he’s heard the first Yeasayer album. In between ‘Bring Us Closer Together’ sounds exactly like someone who managed to get on Top Of The Pops in 1983 with a poor xerox of early Depeche Mode hits and has dined off the revivalist festival circuit to this day.
There’s certainly an interesting, searching mind somwhere at the heart of True Loves - the production layered with tricks and warm, dense synth washes – but whether by trend or overexuberance it too often falls too cheaply into the rote pattern of the same route one hooks as assorted fellow travellers. When it tries to break out towards the end it doesn’t have the strength of individual character to keep itself sounding like a cohesive album rather than a collection of influence-shifting work-in-progress experiments. That said, there’s more than a suggestion here that given thinking time and a scene implosion something that transcends all that could emerge in future.
Listen to True Loves