The Aussie electronic duo had no trouble dealing with their “difficult second album” in Apocalypso which went triple platinum in 2008. And rightly so, as it won innumerable awards and contained some of the most interesting and intriguing EDM you’re ever likely to hear. So it’s been four years since that classic and the band have had plenty of time to work on its successor. Creating an album that lived up to the bar set so high by its predecessor was always going to be a challenge. So does Pacifica continue the band’s fine form?
The album kicks off with the excellent single “Youth In Trouble”. A brooding, smouldering track that certainly harkens back to the excellence of Apocalypso. Unusually, the only other single released from this record is the second track “Ghosts”, which is slightly more lightweight but features some nice vocal work. The vocals are what sets The Presets apart from many of their EDM contemporaries. They write actual songs instead of mere repetitive dance party instrumentals (well there are no physical instruments being electronic music, but you know what I mean).
So the first two tracks are pretty good eh? Yep, no doubt. So the rest of the album is pretty good then eh? No. It isn’t. Not by a long stretch. They’ve ditched much of their edgy experimentalism in favour of bland, throwaway electro pop. Much of the material is derivative of ’80s new romantic bands like Tears for Fears or The Pet Shop Boys. There’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned groups but the sub-standard regurgitation of their work present here is an embarrassment. Some of the really weak tracks sail tragically close to the sickening crooning of Rick Astley et al and Julian Hamilton’s voice is nowhere near as good as the man who was never gonna give us up or let us down’s was. Lyrically, the album is equally weak, loads of “baby babys”, “ooh yeahs” and “in your arms my loves” pepper the album from start to finish. Utterly awful.
The production is pretty good, but it’s so run of the mill! The ubiquitous electric piano and Korg MS20s dominate the album along with the done to death side chaining of kick drum compression over the master bus. The Pulsing suck, blow, suck, blow effect. You know the sound. And suck and blow are pretty accurate descriptions of this album as a whole.
There are many instances of apparent musical build ups which peter out into nothingness or some poorly placed white noise. There is scant regard for crescendo or creative dynamics. Some of the electronic sounds are vaguely interesting, but all I can picture in my head is midi information triggering soft synths. Machine like and predictable. Only the vocals give it a human element, and as stated earlier, the vocals and lyrics leave much to be desired.
“Push” isn’t a bad track with some nice pulsing rhythms but the “baby baby, party party” lyrics just kill it. The first two tracks are the standouts, in particular the first “Youth In Trouble” which is thankfully reminiscent of their excellent earlier work. It builds and builds with an ascending cyclical drone and possesses some sinister, angular chromatic melodies which annoyingly remind us just how good this group can be. The fact that the two best songs are the first two is just dopey song placement. Not that it would have improved the album any, had they been spaced out. Maybe The Presets were hoping the phrase “first impressions last” would be applicable to this disc. It isn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Someone I once knew said “Electronic music is all about production, not composition”. An obtuse and erroneous definition perhaps, but it pretty much sums up this extremely disappointing effort.