Fantastic Playroom was one of the better albums to arrive on the crest of the nu-rave wave in 2007. It may have been packed full of sexually suggestive lyrics, but there was substance to be had amongst the ice cream dreams and jerking.
Many of the tracks on the debut – The Get Go and Tight Fit – to name a couple, have withstood the test of time long after the illuminous paint and ‘It’s a Rave Dave’ slogans finally came out in the wash.
No doubt some of those who danced to NYPC week in week out at grotty indie clubs in 2007 will be wondering whether the band’s new album will reflect the fact that times have changed. And The Optimist is indeed a departure of sorts from light hearted hedonism, opting for a more realistic, darker and altogether more mature sounding record.
The album is packed full of minor key guitar riffs evocative of Joy Division or New Order, with the funk of The Rapture and even a hint of Blondie in the mix. Tahita Bulmer’s lyrics and vocals still ooze attitude, although this time she’s more PJ Harvey and less faux American.
Synths, breathy sighs, jerky, jagged guitars and drums and the line, “I guess I forgot I don’t like you much now”, merge to make Lost A Girl one of the best things the band has done to date. It’s a stop-start track with haunting harmonies that clash and match all at the same time, and a minor keyed, swallowing 70s/80s punk rock sound that would have engulfed Ian Curtis. It really is a far cry from the maligned nu-rave genre they were filed with three years ago.
Title track, The Optimist, takes a similar vein. “I’m an optimist you’re a clean slate baby,” declares Tahita in a way that could take you back to Elastica’s Justine Frischmann on Waking Up. Later, NYPC make way for hypnotic electronica on Stone, with pulsating synths that break out from their mellow repetitive sleep-like state into a break-beat fest akin to UNKLE’s Eye For An Eye.
Metronomy’s handmade instrument quality on their music is evident on We Want To – something that at first struggles not to smack of plagiarism, but as the track unravels the willingness increases to put it down to progress on NYPC’s behalf. This likeness, also faintly audible on Dolls, adds a playful bounce to the bassline from which this new, darker, more assertive band have emerged.
On moments, some of the offerings feel like a u-turn back to Fantastic Playroom. Chaos still has that once-fresh, now more tired-sounding Americanised chant and Cherie, like many of the debut album’s tracks, could do with a 90 second chunk removed. If you bother to get that far, the end actually draws to an accomplished gloom-laden instrumental crescendo. Further to these two, Rapture’s “Can’t you smile on the outside?” feels like a dirge too far.
Yet where Cherie fails, Architect Of Love succeeds. Disengaged vocals and harmonies and melancholic guitars develop into a head- infecting looped beat to close the album seductively.
This is the follow up you would have hoped for from NYPC. Fortunately it’s not the follow up people expected; it’s much better than that and that is a feat that many of their former nu-rave classmates would have done well to achieve.
It’s ironic that an album entitled The Optimist should deliver music and lyrics which swallow the listener in that same feeling of disenchantment with life that the fivesome’s sound currently seems to reflect. But this is an emotion you are thoroughly willing to try on for the ten tracks, in spite of the fact it sometimes frustrates and fails to deliver.
Most will be willing to wait for songs like Lost A Girl, Stone and Architect Of Love, as these are their best moments where all of the musical elements are balanced so well that despair and euphoria dance together simultaneously.