What a weird opening. As stuttering electronica burbles in the background like a TB 303 given a first lesson in being twee, a disembodied voice intones “I am a human being, capable of doing terrible things” and so the music builds, with guitars appearing in the mix and sawing strings suddenly giving way to a towering riff underpinned by some of the weakest digital percussion ever. And yet… Weak it may be, but it’s deliberately so, and the overall impact is strong, drawing the listener in and hooking them from the off. It’s unconventional, strangely affecting and it sounds quite literally like nothing else out there and, for that alone, it deserves a huge amount of credit. It is the perfect opening for an album that delights in being different, and it should come as no surprise that the follow-up track sounds entirely different.
The album continues with ‘fat face’, a track which could easily have come from an indie album with its crooned vocals, lilting piano melody and light-touch percussion. It’s a straightforward track, initially, but listeners shouldn’t be too surprised when the vocals change from gentle croon to Roger Waters’-esque screech and you can’t escape the notion that ‘the wall’ features heavily amongst the many albums that provided a template for the disc. Things don’t get any easier with ‘hollow moon’ which sounds like Gary Numan and Toro Y Moi covering pink Floyd. Here you’ll find electronic stabs, a disco stomp and banks of processed guitar all aimed squarely at a dancefloor populated by the terminally insane. It’s painfully addictive and while it might make you wish to sponge out your own brain, you’ll still find yourself crawling back to it again and again, not least because it concludes with a full-on rock out that will leave you bruised and shaken. Heading into Supertramp territory, ‘Jailbreak’ is a wonderfully harmonised piece of throbbing pop whilst ‘KOOKSEVERYWHERE!’ is a pounding blast of sci-fi infused synth rock destined to tie listeners in knots with its awkward time shifts and glimpses towards men without hats. The band set their sights on stadiums with the soaring anthem ‘I am’, a piece of music that seems tailor made to appeal to an audience in the hundreds of thousands. It is the sort of music that could either spread like wildfire or end up suffering the ignominious fate of sound-tracking an advert for a phone. This isn’t intended as a slight upon the band, rather it signifies the sort of grandstanding ambition the song displays. Next up is ‘headrest for my soul’, an acoustic-led piece that could just as easily come from some obscure singer-songwriter album. It’s incongruous, and yet such is the scattershot nature of the album that it doesn’t sound out of place.
Things get back to… normal(?) with the blazing electronica of ’dreamers’, a blazing piece of industrial strength pop that boasts pummelling drums, heavily distorted guitars and an eerily addictive melody. Another stuttering blast, ‘windows’ packs a powerful punch only to segue strangely into the sort of multi-layer vocal harmony work you might find on a porcupine tree release. Weird? Oh hell yes, but somehow it works. Another departure, ‘holy roller’ digs into similar territory to late-period blur with its whimsical vocal and gently echoing acoustic guitar only for the delightfully ambient ‘woman woman’ to appear and make everything strange. Apparently AWOLNATION dig Maroon 5, as the slightly funky ‘Lie love live love’ attests, only for a throbbing beat to immediately draw the track in a far more interesting direction than that band have ever managed and we’re then off into ‘like people, like plastic’, a dirty groove topped with gritty vocals and a chorus hewn from purest silk. The album draws to a close with ‘drinking lightning’, a downbeat ending that rounds the disc out on an atypically serious note. It’s a fine album closer, and the opposite of what you might expect.
AWOLNATION are a band who excel at the unusual and in these staid times they are exactly the sort of shot in the arm the music world needs. Unconventional and yet rooted in classic rock and indie, you’ll hear hints of Radiohead, Muse, Toro Y Moi, F**k buttons and more, and yet the end result is unquestionably AWOLNATION’s own. It is an album that is both satisfyingly instant and yet which repays repeated visits thanks to the many layers incorporated and the strong vein of progressive music that flows through it.