STRFKR is one of those bands that you have almost definitely heard, and if you haven’t heard of them, then it’s about time you open up those earways and let some music in. They’re notable for their poppy, indie meets electronic tunes. Their latest album, Being No One, Going Nowhere doesn’t quite exemplify this sort of atmosphere –in fact it takes a few risks –but it does espouse the band’s talent for making fun and somehow still thoughtful electronic music.
Being No One, Going Nowhere begins with an incredible bravado. STRFKR seems to be in top form, lively as ever and with that cheerful, giddy atmosphere that fans will have come to expect. “Tape Machine,” balances a slew of flowing notes and sound-effect beeps and boops with a catchy vocal melody and a sort of 70’s inspiring the 90’s inspiring the present day STRFKR backing guitar and octave-leaping melody. It’s everything you come to expect and a little more –the band really put the elbow grease in here. “Tape Machine,” is accessible, recognizable, and just plain enjoyable. STRFKR keeps their topnotch opening rolling with, “Satelite,” which sounds like a slight departure from the band’s usual. It’s mellowed out, lower, more simplified with less instrumental lines. The bass guitar line holds the track together as occasional strums and electronic ditties fill the rest of track out. The song still feels like some sort of reminiscent throwback, maybe not some 70’s/90’s mishmash but a throwback to 2008’s indie scene. Some of the best tracks from Being No One, Going Nowhere really exhibit this influence and it makes sense –it reflects on STRFKR’s experience as musicians, playing together for nearly a decade.
As the album progresses its quality seems to decline. The first couple opening tracks were a strong start but from here on, it gets dicey. Being No One, Going Nowhere seems to fall hardest when STRFKR ventures from origin and begins to incorporate more dance-inspired lines. It’s not that electronic dance music of any kind is bad nor that STRFKR is bad, it’s just that dance does not work for their music.
Things first felt wrong, really wrong, when the fourth track came on, “Something Aint Right.” At first, it didn’t seem terrible, but perhaps the band was self-aware and named the track appropriately. After the dissonant drone, the track crashes into a 80’s synth and percussion line. The vocals are lackluster and clash against the sharp synth line. As the song progresses into its chorus, those synths just get more in your face and with even more simplified. This is the song’s big caveat. The instrumental work is just inappropriate. The pulsating synths are difficult to appreciate and sound forced. The vocals rarely feel as if they were composed to be heard with the music. It’s sad.
A couple of songs are cursed in the same way. “Maps,” although less dancey, a bit darker, and more intense, just feels overburdened by the instrumentals. It’s difficult to discern anything else going on without feeling constantly overwhelmed by the looming presences of a repeating synthesizer. “Dark Days,” while being admittedly better composed, still feels as if the dance elements are a bit much. The instrumental melodies are simply overbearing and predictable. This is a curse prevalent in many tracks, but usually forgivable. It’s still disappointing to see such a drop.
Of course, the album still has some songs really worth exploring. “When I’m With You,” is still very electronic-centric, but the band managed to recenter a bit. The song is still poppy and a bit dancey in certain ways, but executed with simplicity reminiscent of Rokysopp and similar artists. It’s a more ambient listen and although not fresh, it’s a delicious tune. The final track, also dubbed, “Being No One, Going Nowhere,” is interesting in that it’s a very dim tune –mirroring “Maps” in its intense atmosphere. Still, STRFKR pulls it off a bit better. The eerie melodies and distant vocals all add up for a far more tolerable track with more thought. It’s appropriately depressing and an interesting twist from the band.
Being No One, Going Nowhere sounds like STRFKR, but often fails to be as creative or refreshing. While the album maintains all of STRFKR’s hallmarks –poppy electronic melodies worthy of an inspirational montage –it sounds as if the band just gave up. The music is overly dancey, in such a way that, it has become predictable and arguably distasteful. Still, I have a love/hate relationship with the album. It’s still STRFKR, and certain elements are still there. Few bands can take an electronic sound and translate it into something so appreciable. Furthermore, Being No One, Going Nowhere isn’t a complete failure –there are some tracks that are gems. At the end of the day, it’s not quite worth calling mediocre (or anything less than), but it’s hard to assess it as more. With the mixed bag of tracks it’s a bit of a polarized album. Being No One, Going Nowhere may be worth a listen for the fans, but the rest of the world can sit back and dissect. Pick out the favorites and leave the rest for the vultures.