There are few things more frustrating to a music critic than wanting desperately to love an album but never quite getting there. Such is the case with Animal, the debut from Belgian trio Animal Youth. Yet, there are enough impressive elements present on the release to make the listening experience worthwhile, even if they don’t all add up to a satisfying whole.
Musically, the album is fantastic. It’s everything that a person who has never recovered from a torrid affair with mid-1980s post punk could want. There are gorgeous guitar melodies filtered through waves of feedback and reverb, barbed bass solos, waves of stunning synthesizers and song structures that are dizzying in their meticulous construction. Astute music lovers will spot glimpses of influences from Cocteau Twins to Wire Train, from Gene Loves Jezebel to The Cure.
Despite the fact that each song in the enclosed lyric sheet seems to be missing large chunks of text, the lyrics that are included contain some tenebrous treasures, the kind that would freeze the heart of even the most jaded Goth. For example, there’s “Flowers slowly died of love, and everything was reborn in a darker place” (from “Darkest Place”) and “But this morning is kind of grey, I could die just to be with you” (from “Sunday”). Also, what could be more Goth than a song called “Love You (When You’re Dead)”?
There’s a bleak atmosphere on Animal that is, at times, almost overwhelming. But this isn’t a drawback at all. In fact, the music is strong enough to stand on its own without lyrics, which is something that cannot be said about a lot of bands who mine 1980s styles. Guitarist Guy Tournay is genuinely talented; he guides the listener through a variety of styles, from gilded (“Sunday”) to grungy (“To Burn”) and many other thrilling places in between.
What hampers the songs on Animal is Tournay’s vocal style, which for the majority of the album remains in a somewhat nasally register. At first, it feels like a good contrast to the music itself, but after a few songs it can become overbearing. It isn’t that Tournay is a bad singer; it’s just that his vocals don’t always seem to be the best fit for the music. While this doesn’t completely derail the album, it does lessen my enthusiasm. Still, I look forward to hearing what the band comes up with next.
Animal was released on May 26 via Weyrd Son Records.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.