Athlete - Black Swan
Record Label: Original Signal Recordings
Release Date: March 2, 2010
On their fourth album, England's Athlete have made what can easily be described as their most upbeat effort to date. From the sun-splashed opener "Superhuman Touch," to the spiraling lead single "The Getaway," Black Swan opens with a bang and never lets up. The album's third song and title track is a funereal ode to lead singer Joel Pott's grandfather and makes for one of the more triumphant and inspiring eulogies set to music in recent memory.
On the heels of that is "Don't Hold Your Breath," a multi-layered arrangement of cascading guitars, thick glossy guitars and plunked piano lines. The disc's first half ends with "Love Come Rescue," a feather-soft acoustic arrangement that is winning in its deft sincerity and lightness. Though much of the disc features a stadium-ready wall of sound, the simplicity of "Love Come Rescue," makes the point that Athlete might be at their best when channeling lighter territory.
The album's back half continues on with an armful of full-bodied arrangements and cyclical consistency, with the propulsive, "Light the Way," and the plaintive "The Awkward Goodbye," being the most memorable. Though it's not nearly as driving or memorable as the first half, the latter half does end with flair. The reeling "Rubik's Cube" offers up the album's best lyrics and some of Pott's best vocalwork and is backed by ubiquitous string arrangements. The end result is a polished and rich finish to an incredibly satisfying listen.
While Potts' lyrics certainly fall short at times –– album opener "Superhuman Touch," has some of the most trite lyrics since Boys Like Girls' "Heart Heart Heartbreak" –– the music itself is stirring and sterling. Producer Tom Rothrock (Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith, Elbow, Beck) allows the album to glow with rich musicality and heartfelt sincerity. And it's that latter trait that makes Athlete so memorable. While armfuls of musicians can sing songs and sound entirely forced, insincere and phony, Potts is blessed in that every word he sings sounds authentic, honest and direct. In a musical landscape chock full of Auto-Tune and feigned emotion, a disc like this is certainly something to champion.
I felt that this was their weakest album yet, but I'll give it another chance in a few weeks.
You aren't the only one. Many are saying that. I never said it was their strongest. I said it was their most upbeat. I personally prefer it over the others. It's definitely got more life, for one. Their prior efforts were a bunch of downers that suck the life out of you. This on the other hand gives life. I mean "Superhuman Touch," is as catchy and feel good a song as I will ever hear. To that point, it's their most commercial as well, so that's probably why most want to hate on it. But as a huge fan of all the bands in the RIYL, this is right in my wheelhouse. I do adore it. I think it's a good album, but it's not earth-shattering. Hence the score.
Being a massive Elbow fan I've been directed many times to check these guys out. I think I'll finally check them out. I just listened to the "Black Swan Song" on their Myspace and I really like it; I got a Badly Drawn Boy vibe, especially in the vocal department. Thanks for the heads up on what I think will be a great band, Greg. A sweet review!