Monday, October 10, 2016

Album Review: Sonic Syndicate - Confessions

At some point in their careers, most bands will go through a period of turbulence. It's inevitable that something will come along that isn't a force pushing them forward, and it's interesting to see how they handle those tough times. Some bands use them as a catalyst to move in new and exciting directions, some slog through them with diminishing results, and some fragment and break apart entirely. Sonic Syndicate went through one of those times, taking a break from being a band to figure out their future. After their last album got them the freedom to do whatever they wanted, they are not positioned to make the first statement of who they are, and who they want to be.

This new identity is ushered in through a very weird prism, as the title track launches this album with synthetic sounds that could have easily come off any generic EDM-laced pop song from the radio over the last five years. Guitars do come in and make it clear this is a rock band, but the driving force of this album is far more electronic, and far more pop, than most people will be expecting. If you don't like the plastic sound of modern pop music, Sonic Syndicate is going to have a hard time winning you over.

Myself, I grew up on pop music, so I'm quite torn on what to think of this album. On the one hand, I love rock music that has heavy pop overtones in the melodies. I think more rock bands should aim to write songs that are that melodically sticky. Rock has a dearth of bands that write really memorable songs. On the other hand, as a rock fan, I'm disappointed when the music I'm listening to is so audibly manipulated. I love the authenticity of putting a few mics in front of a band, and just recording what they sound like.

That tough balance extends throughout the record. There are some strong moments and melodies in these songs, with several tracks hitting just the right balance of big hooks and heaviness. "I Like It Rough" is a perfect example of this. It hits all the right marks, it's definitely a rock track, and it has a big chorus that would get an audience pumped. That isn't the rule here, though.

Let me be honest here. I'm not saying this is a bad album, because it isn't. For what Sonic Syndicate is going for, they do well. The issue is that I simply am not a sympathetic audience to this particular brand of pop infecting my rock music. While I enjoy songs like "Still Believe" quite a bit, there's too much of the synthetic pop music running through the album for me to be able to enjoy the whole thing. I grew up in a particular bubble of time when pop music was least affected by computers and digital sounds.

So here's what I will say about "Confessions". If you're looking for an up-to-date infusion of pop into rock music, Sonic Syndicate does it well. They have strong songwriting to go along with their embrace of modern pop. I won't discount that. I'll simply say that you have to enjoy the modern pop charts to enjoy "Confessions", and my confession is that I don't. Sonic Syndicate is doing well, but they're doing something I don't particularly enjoy.

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