17 January 2012

The Big Pink: "Future This"

Despite my head cold, I sat down and listened to The Big Pink’s “Future This” (16 January 2012 in the UK, 17 January 2012 in the USA); it played through – the first thing that I struggled with was the idea of expectations. In the wake of their debut album, “A Brief History of Love,” and the slight success of the single “Dominos,” would The Big Pink avoid a sophomore slump and record an album that would take them one step further? In the weeks leading to the release of “Future This,” I could not avoid hearing all the expectations that people had, and, upon my first listen, I realized that most of them would consider this album a sophomore slump – a few friends told me much. But, I listened to the album again, putting aside expectations (theirs or mine). After a second (and third) listen, I am here to give you three reasons why “Future This” is not a sophomore slump, but rather an album you should pay close attention to.

First, both the debut and sophomore albums share a lot of the same underpinnings and references – noise pop, shoegaze, and electropop. That is perhaps why “Dominos” and “Stay Gold,” the lead single from “Future This,” have a lot of similarities (I have not sat with a guitar or keyboard and played around, but I would not be surprised if there is a bit of musical interpolation going on here). While “Dominos” boasts that “hearts collide and smash any dreams of love … these girls fall like dominos,” “Stay Gold” admonishes to “[f]orgive your lovers, but don’t forget their names and let their spirit remain.” There is one important thing going on here: growth. There is an obvious growth in maturity in terms of social skills and conduct, but the maturity is seen throughout the album, a sort of conscious awareness of self and actions. You can say that “Stay Gold,” in essence, is the continuation of “Dominos” – the obvious growth, from complete reckless carnal passion to conscious reflection on relationships. And this could be applied to the entire album – “Future This” is the mature outgrowth of “A Brief History of Love.”

Second, keeping in mind the personal maturity, there is also musical growth. “Future This” uses much of the same ingredients as “A Brief History of Love,” but mixes them over again in a more prudent and mature fashion. There is not that recklessness of sound going on, everything seems more directed, more precise. Much of the growth derives from looking backwards; for instance, “Hit the Ground (Superman)” is a definite throwback to 80s new wave and “Lose Your Mind” has some of the sophisticated flair of the new romantics with a touch of post-punk. The most obvious growth musically is in the rhythm section. While the debut album pretty much capitalized on variations of indie rock beats, “Future This” frolics in the beats of electropop and breakbeat – a dramatic difference from their debut.

Third, this is not your traditional pop album in the least, nor is it a carbon copy of the indie album with feigned anthems. The Big Pink could have easily dropped the noise pop references and/or carried them stereotypically like bands seeking pop success. But they choose a different, quite disarming (discomforting?) approach; where most bands try to jam-pack albums with forty minutes of upbeat tracks and sing-along anthems, The Big Pink chose to be more introspective. This is most obvious with the closing track, “77.” Even though this is the last song of the album, it is not a stadium ready anthem, not even an arena ready one; this final track is more of the brooding kind, as the line “77 ways to say no” is droned repeatedly in the chorus. On the journey towards the end of the album you encounter “The Palace” (electronic noise pop), “1313” (sweet musical cacophony), “Rubbernecking” (proto-industrial meets electro-rock with choral singing), and the titular “Future This” (a modern day post-punk pop track with a harsh ostinato), but what you never encounter again is the same bubbly feeling as the opening track. Instead, you are lead through contemplation, mediation, and more musical experimentation than the debut.

Since The Big Pink’s “Future This” is probably not what people expected, and I can conclude that there are many that feel the same way about the album as some of my friends, I can already imagine people disagreeing with me. But expectations are a funny thing; they impose a measuring post that more often than naught are unfounded. And, of course, I refuse to argue with anyone who has already decided not to be convinced. Nonetheless, the fact remains that artistically this is no sophomore slump; it may not project the band into the stratosphere, but something tells me that is not what The Big Pink wanted anyway. “Future This” is a solid sophomore album, and anyone who disagrees should take another (close) listen to the album.

Track Listing:
1. Stay Gold
2. Hit the Ground (Superman)
3. Give It Up
4. The Palace
5. 1313
6. Rubbernecking
7. Jump Music
8. Lose Your Mind
9. Future This
10. 77

Keep up with The Big Pink at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Stay Gold” and “Hit the Ground (Superman) from TheBigPinkVEVO YouTube Channel.

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