Review Summary: Ambitious synth-rockers Spleen United borrow from Depeche Mode, but manage to create a well-rounded, engaging album of dark pop songs.
The Danish indie/alternative scene has been blossoming as of late. In the last couple of years a lot of respected, although often internationally unknown, bands have surfaced, challenging Kashmir
’s place on Denmark’s alternative rock throne (if there is such a things). To mention a few The Figurines
and Spleen United
are such names. While these bands have enjoyed a fair amount of success inside the borders, they never seem to amount to much internationally. Danish music elitists often write off pretty much all Danish bands as derivative and unoriginal. Admittedly few Danish bands, arguably only Mew
actually, have a well-defined and unique sound. Talented as most of them are, it’s not that hard for detractors to find arguments for writing them off as Radiohead
and Jeff Buckley
wannabes. The emotional falsetto of these alternative rock icons has definitely caught on in Denmark.
In this respect Spleen United
are unique, if only due to the fact that their main source of inspiration is synth-pop masters Depeche Mode
. Three of the five members play synthesizers (although not exclusively) on this album. While they are arguably as derivative as the rest of the upcoming Danish musicians, the fact that they draw from another source is a refreshing addition to the Danish music scene, and while it is not particularly innovative, Godspeed IntoThe Mainstream is a promising debut.
The album seems to look back, giving a retro 80s feel, in its synth-heavy, dark pop sound. The band relies on a circular as opposed to linear structure, meaning that the ideas introduced in the songs are repeated many times with altered instrumentation and sound. Think Radiohead
’s “Everything’s In Its Right Place” or Massive Attack
’s “Angel”. An example of this is the first single, and album opener Heroin Unltd. Basically, the whole song consists of lead vocalist Bjarke Niemann repeating: “Live the dream / Stay in Bed / With heroin / Unlimited”, in his trademark detached singing style, and various synth riffs between the choruses. The dynamics of the song brings to mind Massive Attack
’s droning take on trip hop on the aforementioned “Angel”. “Heroin Unltd.” doesn’t reach the same musical heights, but it uses the same dynamics as ”Angel” to great effect. It became a hit in Denmark for good reason, an incredibly laid-back, cool
One of the bands finest moment comes with second track “In Peak Fitness Condition”, also a single, a more uptempo, though still dark and moody song. His monotonous singing is occasionally substituted with a welcome falsetto, prevalent in songs like this and “Streetfighter”. “In Peak Fitness Condition” relies on a strong pop-hook and a dark atmosphere. Spleen United’s sound is at its most captivating here, and the bands talent for writing a catchy pop song is displayed here to full effect. While they’re not unique, they explore a lot of different sounds, and separate themselves from typical rock groups by using keyboards primarily, rather than a typical backing group. The quintessential Spleen United song has to be their self-titled (“Spleen Untd.”). It’s an incredibly cool song; the kind of song that you would listen to on your headphones while walking down the street,. It is fairly simply, kicked off by a catchy synthesizer melody that the vocals repeat, backed by a simple rhythm group but the dynamics work sublimely.
The album’s most obvious problem is, predictably, that its repetitive nature sometimes takes too much over. The songs sometimes end on a dull note, as the same synthesizer riff is repeated several times. Most of the time this is hypnotic and engaging, like on album opener “Heroin Unltd.”, but it becomes off-putting more a few times as well. An obvious comparison for this album is Depeche Mode
’s magnum opus “Violator”. While “Violator” is one of the most solid albums I’ve ever heard, with not a second wasted on the entire record, “Godspeed Into The Mainstream” sometimes falls into the trap of repeating the bands’ ideas a little too much. This is not something that ruins the album at all, but it keeps it from becoming the phenomenal album it could have been.
The albums longest track, the eight minutes and twenty seconds epic title track explores a lot of ideas and themes, but fails to maintain the interest for its entire span. It drags especially towards the end. The song seems to sum up the album well; laden with effects and synth riffs, dark and melancholic, and at times too repetitive for its own good. But while the songs seem relatively similar at first, future listens will reveal subtle nuances, shifts in mood and sound, and makes it easy to separate the songs from one another. It’s obvious that Godspeed into the Mainstream is a product of very hard work by very serious and committed musicians. It showcases a band completely in control of their sound, even if that sound isn’t all their own.