Collarbones – Die Young
For an album whose central themes revolve around nostalgia and adolescent love, there couldn’t be a more forward-thinking sound to Collarbones’ sophomore effort, Die Young. At least for me, this genre of male-driven sampled-beats-goes-R&B is yet to really be explored. Until now. The closest artists that come to mind would be the mysterious Twigs and even AlunaGeorge (though that’s a stretch). Granted, I don’t claim to be an R&B aficionado, let alone an R&B fan – so I could really be missing the mark here. Frank Ocean kinda bores me (a Pitchfork crime!), I really don’t like Usher, and as any sane person does, I fucking hate Chris Brown.
I guess this is why I initially didn’t like the album. All I could hear was cheesy, jarring R&B. It felt overcrowded, cluttered, and sounded like the sonic reincarnation of someone wading through a jellyfish ridden swap (weird analogy, but just roll with it for now). While Die Young is one of the best records of the year and I love it, I don’t take back my initial thoughts. It is tormented by overcrowded samples and has an initial inaccessible turgidity to it.
It’s undoubtedly evident that, if they chose to, Collarbones could make huge, Grimes-y, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs-esque electronic pop. Instead Die Young plays with the notion of mainstream accessibility throughout. Every song has the winning verse/chorus combo (it’s not some experimental dance soundtrack) yet, equally, just when you think the song will take the expected route, Collarbones turn and smack you with the rippling sound of sodden base and clanking percussion. A prime example being, Too Much, which sounds like a vocal rip from a Nelly b-side (does Nelly have b-sides?) with the backing of some industrial Berlin trance track. Dare I say, it really works.
I usually hate rap verses (yeah, I hate R&B, blah blah blah), but HTMLflowers is nothing but invigorating and intriguing (as is everything he does) on the title track. The enigmatic rap moves with such rhythm and fluidity, that the cascading synths (or strings?) quaver as if to keep up. At its core, the song is constructed of the same sample looped, again, and again. Yet, it never tires or agitates. Somehow, the duo manages to revive each loop through their complimenting lyrics and fantastic production. There couldn’t be a more obvious example of this than lead single, Hypothermia, where the sample of a deep moan is repeated around 300 times. Yet just as the title track does, Hypothermia engages and fascinates rather than bores.
At the heart of Die Young is the typifying Teenage Dream. Clad in murky samples and syncopated swaying beats, the track soon erupts into a drum and bass chorus that has you singing with surprise conviction: “I’ll be there for you baby/When my heart breaks for you”. Again, somehow these cheesy lyrics work.
As much as I do love the intensity of this record, it’s no easy-listening folk, and the following beat-free instrumental, Soul Hologram, comes as a welcomed break.
As a whole, it is a danceable album. Not the sort that has everyone jumping in unison and fist pumping, rather the soul shaking, shoulder shifting type where you lose yourself in the music. Its most affecting moments come with the slower burners, such as Losing, Red and highlight, Cocooned. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint a standout as each song has its own unique attraction and qualities, but there is something about the simplicity in both the lyrics and humming base of Cocooned that haunts Die Young.
I struggle to find a criticism of the record. Yes, It is pretty intense listening, and it can take a while to get into, but that’s its charm to me. With every listen I learn more about this album and get sucked a little deeper. I can also say that if you’re not won over, see them live, and everything will change. Die Young ebbs and flows, packs a sting, seems unnatural, but exists as one of the most interesting albums. A jellyfish, I tell you.
Review by Marcus Thaine