Dynamic, cinematic, romantic—those adjectives have been readily applied to Drop Electric’s sound over the past few years, and the band has been compared to mood-makers such as Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and M83. On Waking Up To the Fire, its second album, the “-ic” factors now are anchored by big beats, and the band is better off for it.
The buildups are shorter, and most songs stay within rhythmic pockets. Synths trump guitars, vocalist Kristina Reznikov commits to a cool kind of tunefulness, and at 38 minutes long, Waking Up To the Fire amounts to a smartly edited statement about not being too beholden to explicit emotional payoffs. Amid that framework, new reference points flash in and out: Beach House, fashion runways, science, contemporary pop, and My Bloody Valentine’s drum-machine-driven material.
If those stylistic revisions give Waking Up To the Fire the feeling of a fresh-faced debut, in some ways, it is. It’s Drop Electric’s first album for a proper label—Lefse Records of Portland, Ore., once home to Neon Indian and Youth Lagoon—and it’s the band’s first long-player since signing a deal with Pusher Music, a company that licenses music to movie trailers. If Drop Electric’s previous output brought the drama, these tunes bring the snap.
Some of them even qualify as head-nodders. “Blue Dream,” with its thick bottom end and club-ready tempo, is the kind of track that will launch a thousand remixes, while “Carl Pagan” and “Lucille” almost qualify as electro-funk. And one of the three songlets that help pace the album, “Wack Rapper Meets Defeat,” wouldn’t sound out of place on an indie hip-hop beat tape. (The others are definitely movie-music material.)
On the faster or more ethereal tracks, however, the band shows the downside of being fresh to this game, by overemphasizing some of its electronic motifs. “Higgs Boson” is too stuffed with blips, beeps, and buzzes—and Reznikov’s singing is so shrouded in echo effects that reading the lyric sheet is the only way to discern that the subatomic particle in the title is a metaphor associated with a human relationship. “Starfox,” although reminiscent of The Postal Service’s lovelier moments, could’ve done more with less; and the title track, which shoots for a balance of chirpy and icy, doesn’t need those Daft Punk-style vocal effects to communicate its pop sensibility.
But even when Drop Electric is on the verge of being carried away by its gear, there’s usually a sense that the sonic palette is at least implemented with good intentions. Only the album-closing instrumental, “Among Dying Dreams,” feels truly flimsy. With piano scales, trumpet figures, and fidgety percussion, it swells simplistically. Some of the old Drop Electric oomph—a guitar burst, a quiet breakdown—might’ve saved it. Then again, that kind of stuff might’ve seemed too retrograde, and this is obviously a band on the move.