Album Review: SPEAK – Pedals

By on Wednesday, 2nd July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

SPEAK Pedals CoverAustin, Texas synthpop band SPEAK have just released their second full-length album ‘Pedals’, which they began working on almost the moment their first album, 2011’s ‘I Believe in Everything’, was complete. Lead singer and keyboardist Troupe Gammage describes the band as “extremely goal-oriented”, a trait that led them to consciously refine their style and self-produce their sophomore effort. ‘Pedals’ is, indeed, a very deliberate album. The general feeling is one of intentionally developed sophistication, but it’s all a bit overwrought. The intense intellectualism and musical experimentation often weighs down songs that are presumably intended to be delicately ethereal or buoyantly anthemic.

Recent single ‘Gates’ is a reasonably optimistic, uptempo opener. Gammage’s singing voice shows its colors right away here, with a low range that descends into vocal fry and teeters precariously on the edge of going flat before being redeemed by a silky smooth falsetto. The wailing guitars and keyboard riff establish a cool pop vibe that carries through ‘Mystery Lights’ and ‘Nightlight’.

A brief instrumental clip called ‘Weiss’ serves as a preliminary intro to the unexpected acoustic ballad ‘This Much I Know’. This combination of the album’s two shortest tracks is a fleeting but hypnotic moment of echoing guitars, lush backing harmonies, and a gently rocking 6/8 meter leading into the more expansive ‘Peaks’.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqEBArEkfCY[/youtube]

‘Peaks’ was dropped as a pre-album single in April 2013, then released alongside 3 remixes as part of an eponymous EP. SPEAK have given this song a lot of attention, and while their devotion to it is admirable, I think it may also have been somewhat detrimental. It feels like the band are too far inside their own heads on this one, focusing on minute details and losing sight of the larger effect, which ends up being a bit tedious. (Sample the other arrangements of this track on the ‘Peaks’ EP here.)

The mid-album sequence of ‘Oh Lord’, ‘Modern Art’ and ‘Be Reasonable, Diane’ is the strongest grouping on the album. ‘Oh Lord’ has a distinct rhythmic groove, accented by additional percussion and fluidly emotive vocals. ‘Modern Art’ is the sonic equivalent of graphic visual art, its angular melodic lines and crisp rhythms sharply contrasting the fuzzy texture of the vocals and guitars. The moody and sullen ‘Be Reasonable, Diane’ has, ironically, the only chorus catchy enough to stick with me after my initial listen to the full record.

The remainder of the album is uneven, with the jungle soundscape of ‘Congo’ and the r&b groove of ‘The Meantime’ trying to break up the monotony of ’11 12 13’ and ‘Trials’. A bit of judicious trimming at this point might have streamlined the focus at the end of the tracklisting and on the album as a whole.

On first listen, the tracks on ‘Pedals’ completely ran together in my mind, their subtleties lost in a wash of electro-synth sound. I found it difficult to pick out anything particularly clever or inventive. It wasn’t until my 3rd full listen that I found myself humming along to choruses, nodding my head to beats and anticipating riffs and rhythms. Unfortunately, while the album has its moments of clarity, subsequent listening hasn’t fully anchored it in my mind. However, for listeners who enjoy expansive, genre-blurring post-rock, SPEAK’s experimental new sound might be worth the extra time it takes to delve into the complexity of ‘Pedals’.

6/10

‘Pedals’ is out now on Playing In Traffic Records.

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