One of the most repeated phrases in music journalism is the old saying, “Less is More.” Norway’s Datarock seem to have gotten the adage backwards. This is nothing new for the red-suited Bergen synth rockers, a group whose 2015 release The Musical contained no fewer then 87 guest stars. But that doesn’t stop Face The Brutality (out March 9th via Datarock’s record label YAP Records) from feeling anticlimactic, an album that never really gets off the ground despite having so many ideas at play.
Datarock’s influences are clear. The band have cut their teeth on the new-wave groups of the seventies and eighties, like Talking Heads, Devo and Eurythmics. But the line between retro and old is thin, and the synthesizers on tracks like “Sense of Reason” and “Laugh In The Face of Darkness” sound like they come straight from the post-disco, day-glow days of MTV. It’s a fair niche to aim for, but considering how far electronic music has come since then, it’s a bit baffling why Datarock would choose such a dated aesthetic, especially with this being their first proper album in almost a decade.
One major plus is that Datarock are showing signs of musical progression and growth. Face The Brutality does away with many of the funk elements that were a feature on 2009’s Red, showing that the band is not content to sit in a creative rut. The album’s best track “Feathers and Wax” sounds like the result of Mumford and Sons and Pixies jamming with Gorillaz. It’s a great mix, one complimented by David Bowie-meets-Stranger-Things track “Invitation to Love” and the punk-rock album closer “Darkness At The Edge of the Pit.” With songs like these, it’s more than a little disappointing that Datarock have chosen “Ruffle Shuffle” as the album’s lead single, a song whose chorus contains the line, “…do the Ruffle Shuffle, Datarock style,” sung like Billy Idol coming down from a sleeping pills binge. Oof…
The seeds of a fantastic album are here. Fredrik Saroea and Kjetil Møster have done their homework when it comes to their influences, and when the two push their boundaries, the results are electrifying. It’s just a shame that they don’t do this more often. As it stands, most of Face The Brutality will be great background fodder for commercials, while the truly great tracks get buried.
Written by Max Morin
*edited by Kate Erickson