Review Summary: Dancing in a meaningless universe
In an age when many indie acts strive to make self-serious, stadium-filling anthems, a band like STRFKR is a necessity. Despite making pop music, the group has always displayed a rebellious anti-pop spirit, sticking an expletive in their name and cross-dressing at live shows. By making sure that they’d never end up on the charts, the band was able to create its own niche sandbox where they could get as wacky as they pleased. I was lucky enough to see them this summer in Phoenix, and they put on one hell of a show. Balloons, lights, dancing astronauts- they had it all. Being No One, Going Nowhere
takes the energy of STRFKR’s live show and cranks it up into the red. While it doesn’t exude as much personality as the band’s debut or feel as iconic as parts of 2011’s Reptilians
, this new album is STRFKR’s most cohesive and groove-heavy offering to date.
One common complaint about the band’s last album, Miracle Mile
, was that the songs felt like demo tracks and failed to come together in any sort of meaningful way. This is remedied on Being No One
, which has a much clearer theme running through the DNA of each song. Recorded in the Joshua Tree desert, the album explores concepts of existentialism, introspection, and cosmic freedom. If that all sounds a little heavy-handed for an indie pop record, don’t fear. STRFKR’s primary objective is for the listener to have fun
. The album isn’t a thesis on Eastern philosophy; it’s simply an invitation to a world where nirvana has been reached and dancing is the only thing left to do.
Being No One
sees the band utilize more electronics than in the past, but never to a fault. Rather than coming off as artificial and robotic, the songs here are fuzzy and warm, like a campfire on a cold night. The opener “Tape Machine” merges a playful revolving synth with acoustic guitar in a way that feels totally organic. “Something Ain’t Right” and “In the End” are both glimmering, reverb-heavy disco tracks that take cues from M83 while still retaining STRFKR’s retro-pop essence. “Maps” is the album’s most electronic cut: a Com Truise-style synthwave banger featuring a chugging bassline that slowly propels the song into the stratosphere. Once it arrives, the keyboards pulsate wildly as frontman Josh Hodges wails over the beautiful chaos. It’s a radical departure for the band, and the most emotional song they’ve ever made. The album’s best moment, though, is “Open Your Eyes”- a track that largely strips away electronics in favor of a subtle guitar rhythm that builds to another monumental chorus. The album’s existentialism rears its head as Hodges sings “squeezing the palm of your hand… in these bodies, we are alone.” It’s both heartbreaking and hopeful, and although the song is about teen angst, it’s actually the most mature the band has ever sounded both musically and lyrically.
In fact, it’s songs like “Open Your Eyes” that make me wish Hodges and company had taken a few more steps forward than just one. Nothing on Being No One
is executed poorly, but some of the record feels a bit too
familiar, as if the band is simply retreading old water. Tracks like “Satellite” and “When I’m With You” are competent, though not extraordinary, and the inclusion of STRFKR staple Alan Watts on “interspace” is an unnecessary moment of nostalgia that hints at the band’s unwillingness to plunge into a new sound. However, nostalgia can still be satisfying when done well, and lead single “Never Ever” is a perfect example of this. Sounding more like classic STRFKR than anything else on the album, it’s an enjoyable, candy-colored pop track that proves the band still has the chops to write an amazing hook.
Although certain parts of Being No One
hint at a more exciting musical direction, the band largely keeps up its long tradition of dipping a toe in various directions without fully committing to any of them. While the music is certainly enjoyable, it’s frustrating to see such a talented band continue to hit just slightly below the mark with each release. However, it seems like STRFKR is content to keep doing what works for them, and it’s hard to blame them when it works so well. The very title of the record implies that the group is “going nowhere” and like it that way. If that’s the case, it’s not a huge problem. Being No One
is another solid record in the STRFKR catalog, and even though the band occasionally falls short of their own high bar, they’re still making much more exciting and inventive music than many of their contemporaries. As much as I’d want them to create an iconic, classic album, it would also be the most out-of-character thing that a band as subversive and unconventional as STRFKR could ever do.
In the end, they doesn’t seem to be striving to make any sort of grand artistic statement. If you hear them in the moment, free from your expectations and existential dread, you’ll understand the power of STRFKR. In the meaningless vastness of a universe that could destroy us at any moment, they give us a simple, empowering purpose: to dance. They aren’t the most boundary-pushing band around, but they’re surely one of the most fun.