Using a pastiche can be overdone and tacky, but not if you subvert expectations. For their sophomore release Starchild & The New Romantic revive a lot of old pop that still works, but never feel like they’re trying to just use someone else’s sound. Though their album does feel a little inconsistent in terms of feeling, their immaculate sound and clever writing have us interested to see where they go next.
The album bounces with a Prince-like level of funk, with each track popping with the right amount of soul and dance. Tracks like “Language” carry darkness too, offering listeners a deeper mix of emotions in their pop music. “Mood” offers a wave-like swell of synths and harmonies as choirs and guitars swing together in a wall of sound that feels alive. Luckily, as long as the song runs on tension, it finally releases it all for one ecstatic finale.
“Only If U Knew” leans into its bass with a heavy hand, as the falsettos rise to counter it all with that same Prince growl. The group’s ability to seamlessly move between their synth meditations and rushes of percussion at any moment makes the song feel like an unpredictable beast. Grooves rule the rhythm on “Hands Off” as a dance of synths and bass move around between the vocals to create a surprisingly coherent wash of melody. Though it’s certainly a busy song, the track’s exuberant energy won’t leave you any time to complain.
There’s a soft and relaxing energy to the piano crawl of “Hangin On” that’s as much Elton John as it is Marvin Gaye. The quirky production takes the sunny chords into a dream-like place that gives the song a perfectly surreal energy. Horns punch out hard on “Black Diamond” to give an immediately defined flavour to the song, and somehow liven-up an already booming album. It’s all groove and moments here however, and will serve best as a long-form dance track that may be harder to get into on initial listens.
The group’s knack for really stretching an idea out with surprising sustain turns “Ophelia’s Room” into an interlude. Although outside of its sonic brilliance it may not always hold your attention the whole way through. “Some People I Know” hits hard with its light rapping, that feels a lot more aggressive thanks to its harsh contrast with the rest of the album’s aesthetic. Its rich lyrical story and message is however a little hampered by the flow that feels constantly second-place to the choruses behind it.
“Can I Come Over” hits that vintage funk glory in its steady and moving bounce, as each little guitar hook and synth chord raise you higher and higher. The feeling is undeniable and the swirl of riffs is perfect, leaving only the stray aesthetic choice to feel a tad cheesy. While it’s hard to criticize an artist for trying to diversify their sound, the modern hip hop tones of “Doubts” feel utterly unoriginal and remove so much of what makes the album feel unique. This said, the colour brought in with the retro keyboards and creamy harmonies give the track a lot of warmth.
Though it constantly feels more floating and filtered out than a full track, “Good Stuff” has all the makings of a club-funk crossover. The frantic percussion and rolls of vocals keep it constantly intoxicating making the misstep of the filtered production feel all the more unfortunate. As typical and pop-heavy as it is “Boys Choir” is one of those vocal-driven 80’s tracks that will undoubtedly become a favourite to many that listen to the albums. It’s actually thanks to this simplicity that the song feels so powerful, allowing its deep and personal lyrics to shine through.
With one last wail, “Lost Boys” gives the album one final dance beat to really take the record out with biting energy. Infusing a little more Michael Jackson into the pop, the track somehow reaches a wash of falsetto harmonies and endless synths without ever feeling annoyingly crowded. “Hand To God” plays against some of the same nostalgia that “Boys Choir” plays to, as it takes that boyband feeling and subverts it with discordant wonder.
Words by Owen Maxwell