Review Summary: An unsurprising shift in sound deserving of attention.
To begin with: Coletta were never going to remain a post-hardcore outfit. This isn’t to say their approach was lacking; rather, what made their effort so captivating rested not in that genre, but in the bubblegum-sweet melodies and poppy hooks, with harsher aspects only being occasionally introduced as an effective contrast. Those polished passages glistened with a production’s rosy sheen, applying an ambiance of pure relaxation, painting imagery of a summer beach, the sun blazing overhead while sipping on a chill glass of lemonade. How else can I make this assertion clearer? The power of math
. Consider how the group’s inaugural record, EP Mind & Time
, featured only around two minutes and 44 seconds of harsh vocals, equaling to only about ten percent of the output. Of the six tracks, two didn’t include them to begin with, and the majority belong to concluding number “Handbook for the Recently Deceased.” When it did appear, it was consistently engaging, yet a cornerstone it was decidedly not. Evidently, the Atlanta quartet seemed to agree; the singles preceding the release of the Georgian collective’s first full length retained the sureness and smooth grooves of post-hardcore contemporaries—the slick, sugary mood of Strawberry Girls courses through tunes—but moved away from heavier forays. Aforementioned pop elements have been brought to the forefront, operating entirely on their own merits without a transitory counter to buttress them. Emerging from this predictable alteration in direction is a lush soundscape that drifts along like a dream, a gorgeous aesthetic coloring the scenery in fluffy, pink clouds and arcing rainbows that race along tantalizing bass riffs and guitar licks. All throughout Idealism
, however, there lurks a storm cloud in the background, its dark presence invading the duration of a pop album that brings more than meets the ear.
In departing from their EP, Coletta haven’t sacrificed whatever edge they possessed. It’s undeniable that the method is different—dream pop and alternative rock sentiments have been augmented greatly—thought it is not so airy that proceedings become too distant to latch onto. A decent portion of this can be credited Dylan Alexander. Claiming to have lost interest in screaming, the vocalist/guitarist concentrated their talents on their already commendable clean singing, using a charismatic performance to inject catchy refrains and palpable emotion into songs. Far from becoming linear, Alexander is capable of diversifying his interpretation per the disposition crafted by it; Coletta actively refuse to lock themselves into a specific emotion so that individual cuts have distinguishable identities. What introduces the audience to the album, for instance, relishes in the ethereal, floating synths buoying Alexander’s carefree delivery, his smooth tone and enticing inflection perfectly complimenting the seductive lyricism. Drenched in layering and affects, the vocalist sounds more like a specter than an actual person, carting the listener off on a blissful odyssey populated by thumping basses, spacey guitars whirling about nearby. Then, in opposition, there sits a song such as “Fever Dream” that picks up the pace, lacking the second half wandering of the previously described “Black Rabbit.” Possessing a hint of urgency that stems from prose heavily influenced by anxiety, Dylan adopts a more melancholic aura, though it never interrupts his confidence in clearly singing any verse he comes to. There remains the same sort of palette that colored the wistful journeying that announced the onset of Idealism
, but it’s been twisted, morphing the instrumentation into more pensive than upbeat. It’s not different than the cover: a posing model in an ‘ideal’ form, yet obscured by mounting struggles.
It's these moments where Alexander and the band are in full cooperation that the LP realizes its intended identity. There are a variety of entries that feature the group settling into a groovy, braggadocio-fueled escapade perfectly suited for their more poppy stylings. None are quite as obvious as lead single “Sweet Nothin’,” the cliché phrases dripping with Justin Timberlake-esque swagger that disguise their pitfalls. The understated drumming gently urges the conception forwards as delicate strumming dominates the foreground, Dylan’s poise the cherry on top as he glides through the chorus effortlessly. An opposing dynamic is again established in the form of the quicker “Agoraphobia,” presenting another set of writing that sounds far from the realm of a braggart. Heavy effects usage is the central attraction, causing the despondent pre-chorus to echo in its grim content. A reverberating guitar riff ripples through the rain water of this storm cloud, but the track still maintains its exterior appeal: glittering melodies that accompany powerful singing. The longest incursion on the album, “Wanderlust,” is perhaps where the two emotional realms of the disc collide in the most satisfying manner, and it is certainly the crown jewel of the album. Rather than dipping a toe into despair, Coletta immerse themselves fully within it while still in the framework of their aesthetic-dependent approach. A nostalgic air seeps into the six-minute adventure, its graceful, gradual emergence soaked in layered vocals, an infectious instrumental hook, and an anthemic refrain belted out by Alexander, a rare harsh variation cropping up as he copes with a sort of nightmare—an unceremoniously terminated relationship that plays endlessly in his head. Once the tune enters into its prolonged bridge, the songwriting skills of the collective are at a peak, a delicate melancholia invading the space opened up by the band, with plenty of time allowed so the atmosphere may gain substantial ground. It’s a stunning achievement that unequivocally justifies Coletta’s novel route.
The only downside of “Wanderlust” is that, once placed into the entirety of Idealism
, its compositional brilliance towers above its peers. Though I’ve waxed poetic about the tug-of-war between gloom and jubilance, it never aspires for the height accomplished far too early on only the fifth entry of the product. It’s difficult to take it as seriously when next to the humorously cliché “Sweet Nothin’,” what with its flagrant flaunting of hackneyed motifs, though the positive traits of Coletta’s dreamy instrumentation is enough of an x-factor to dispel confusion over tone. A more serious issue comes in the form of the different ideas the quartet attempt to implement. Primarily, scattered rap sections are peppered throughout, and the enjoyability of their integration often is attributed to a coin flip; it is a defining feature of “Sweet Nothin’” and its energetic climax, yet its abrupt showing in “Memento Mori” provides a detrimental effect. In contrast to the delightful poppy vibes, the rapping is frustratingly monotone, clashing against the progression of the tune as it grinds to a halt. Other than these questionable decisions, it could also be said that not enough
decisions are made, with “Wanderlust” again turning into somewhat of an insurmountable barrier. There is little deviation from the approach Coletta designs once it takes hold, and when certain numbers simply don’t hold up as strongly as highlights—“Butterflies” and “Juicy” are of the more forgettable cuts—the aesthetic occasionally falters. Pinnacles on the same plan as the record’s centerpiece exhibit what Coletta could do if they opted to push themselves, but they do not do so to the extent that could. Though never enough to sink the ship, it may put a dent into it.
Adding up the sum of its parts, the Georgia crew’s opus is not a misfire despite the flaws it contains. This is a statement from the Atlanta gents that any doubts about their transformation were unfounded. Injected into the twelve tracks is a noticeable sense of self-assurance that’s oozing in every second, purporting Idealism
as a mature product that belies the relatively brief existence of the group thus far. A move that ordinarily would come across as jarring appears as nothing but a natural evolution of where the assemblage was already on course to follow. It’s expected that not every fan will be sold on the switch regardless of its predictability or not, yet it cannot be questioned that the impetus of the set—pop leanings twisted into their sweetest-sounding form—is handled with care. The foundation of Mind & Time
is at the heart of what is portrayed on this album, which was never about whether or not harsh vocals weaseled their way into the fold or not. The amazing scenery constructed by the band on their debut is worthy of praise, possessing in its glowing palette a tantalizing atmosphere that wraps its audience up, parading about a dominion of imagination. Come the finale of the release, where Alexander bellows the one scream he saved up for the proceedings, a series of lasting impressions are left in the wake. For one, that lurking storm cloud, as pervasive as it may be, has seemingly been blown off, rendered toothless by a cathartic exclamation. For another, should the creases be smoothed over, it seems as though the Atlanta gang are on track to conquering the industry if their trajectory continues. If there are any further doubts, I’ll bring out the calculator.