by Benjy Mello-Klein
Danish electro-pop band When Saints Go Machine are purveyors of a particularly evolved, particularly “big” sounding breed of electro-pop. Konkylie, the album that precedes their latest, Infinity Pool, was steeped in vast reverb and thick, often softly saturated synths and drum loops. But if 2011’s Konkylie was big, the band’s latest release, Infinity Pool, could easily be described as bigger.
Many of the tracks boast huger mixes, thick with even grander layers of ethereal synths and colossal industrial drum samples. The band’s music still feels dreamy and atmospheric, largely thanks to the familiarly soft, exotic crooning of vocalist Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild. Yet while the album may bear resemblance to prior releases in the scope of its production sounds, it feels fundamentally different. It is a darker and tenser listening experience. On a number of these tracks, the band has traded some of its standby electro-pop rhythms, drum sounds, and compositional templates for those more characteristic of hip-hop and big beat electronica. These songs run the gambit from chaotically sample-heavy, compelling, and psychedelic (“Webs”) to corny and cartoonishly urban (“Iodine” and “Love and Respect,” the latter of which sounds like cheapened Massive Attack or Unkle with an inappropriate, almost phoned-in appearance from Killer Mike.) Infinity Pool’s production is, in general, more adventurous, but decidedly less raw than on prior recordings. Some of it’s weakest moments seem to be its glossiest, those where it strives for bigger mixes and awe-inspiring, larger-than-life atmospheres.
Still, the album has a number of gems; “Mental Shopping Spree” is a dark, stripped down synthpop track with heavy Soft Cell or early Phil Collins vibes and what is likely the album’s most haunting and soulful vocal performance. In context, the song is an anomaly; nestled among dramatically shifting hi-fi bangers and churners, it sounds all the more striking. “Mental Shopping Spree” also betrays a more dynamic side of the band (the verses are eerie and subdued, the choruses explosive), perhaps one less focused on production and more focused on songwriting. “Mannequin” and “Order” are other strong points. They are not stadium-sized like some of the other cuts on Infinity Pool, but their climaxes sound larger and more intense in the company of sparser, more minimalistic verses and breakdowns.
While some songs feel over-produced, others (“Yard Heads”) fall flat, with underdeveloped production ideas and borderline videogamey synths. It seems that on this record, When Saints Go Machine’s greatest strengths, (powerful songwriting, chilling vocals, gripping lyrics) are best exhibited when the band is able to find a middle ground between these extremes. And when these strengths are on full display, the band is almost titanic.
While it seems that When Saints Go Machine still have developmental steps to make, Infinity Pool is a thrilling and intensely eclectic record. Its sound could easily appeal to dance fans, to hip-hop fans, even to fans of folk, post-rock, and far more experimental genres. The record feels like it will broaden WSGM’s horizons as a band, and perhaps move them forward their stylistic evolution and maturation.