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Review: We’ve Awaited Kate Boy’s Debut ‘One’ Since the Midnight Sun

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Label: Fiction/IAMSOUND/Island

In another universe, Kate Boy could have occupied the space currently reserved on alt-rock radio and in festival lineups for CHVRCHES. Another blacklit synth-pop now-duo, the Stockholm-based Kate Boy announced their arrival with 2012’s thunderous “Northern Lights” around the same time CHVRCHES debuted with “The Mother We Share” — both sounding delicately chiseled out of the frosty shadow-sonics of the Knife, and then gratifyingly blown up to arena-rock proportions. But the Scottish trio built on their momentum with a quick series of similarly panoramic blasts, and collected them cohesively on their rapturously received first LP, The Bones of What You Believe, within 12 months of their on-record debut. The more mysterious Kate Boy’s breakout has been slower to unfold, with a gradual trickle of singles leading to their full-length introduction, One, only being released now, three years later.

It’s been a long wait, but it’s almost singlehandedly justified by One’s first track (and latest single), “Midnight Sun.” Australian-born singer Kate Akhurst loads up on the same WE ARE YOUNG euphoria as fellow new-wave Oceanians the Naked and Famous and Empire of the Sun, and sprays it all over the song’s booming drums and rapid-fire synth sputters. Lyrics as thick as “Memories of never-ending days / And the rush we can’t escape” and “Black and blue under heart-pink nights” require a degree of commitment to convince, but Alkhurst is up to the full-throated task, belting in a guileless wail while echoed vocal triggers provide a chorus of agreement behind her. Another group of eternal youth-chasers once asked if you remembered the night we saw the midnight sun; here, Kate Boy answer the question with a “Well, duh.

The rest of One follows its opener’s turbo-charged lead. Ping-ponging synth whooshes reverberate around the cavernous soundscapes of bangers like “Lion for Real” and “Self Control,” while treadmilling drum patterns propel them relentlessly forward. “Adrenaline is what you’re channeling,” Akhurst announces on the former, and while you’re listening it’s certainly true — the album feels custom-designed to be vampire-hours pre-game music. “Northern Lights” reappears here, too, and it shows no wear for its years, still sounding like the dark-pop equivalent to climbing the Alps, its burbling hook and steady bass trudge scaling it higher and higher as Akhurst triumphantly (and persuasively) shouts from the top: “Everything we touch turns to gold / So never ever let go!”

The record’s biggest flaw might be that it stacks the stunning “Sun” and “Lights” as its first two tracks, setting a challenge to which the nine remaining ones can’t quite rise. “We like the word ‘dynamic’ / We like to use it a lot,” Akhurst cheekily divulges at the beginning of “Human Engine,” but while no one could accuse One of being static, the record’s pummeling dynamics don’t adjust a ton over the course of 45 minutes, and the recycled thrust of later tracks like “The Way We Are” and “Open Fire” lands a little soft. But truth be told, the same could be said for the first CHRVCHES album, and even the second. With LP1 finally out of the way, it’s now up to Kate Boy to prove that they can live up to the evolutionary standard of the mother the two groups share.

Tags: Kate Boy, Reviews