Review of The Receiver, All Burn (Kscope, 2015). 11 tracks.
Formed a decade ago, The Receiver is the brothers Cooper – vocals, synths/keyboards, bass. Each of the brothers handles vocals while Casey plays keyboards and bass and Jesse plays drums. ALL BURN is the band’s third album, the first with Kscope. The thing that strikes the listener immediately upon hearing the new album is the quality of the vocals and the vocal lines and melodies. They are gorgeous. Absolutely and completely gorgeous. So gorgeous in fact that one could drown in their beauty.
Kscope has labeled The Receiver as “symphonic dream-prog” and if they had to be compared to another Kscope band, they would come closest to Sam Healy’s always-stunning North Atlantic Oscillation. The Receiver resides on the pop end of Kscope’s offerings, they’re still far more pop than NAO. Indeed, the best comparison would be to Thomas Dolby’s first album or something from mid-period OMD. Though the production—for the most part—is 2015, the sound is very 1982.
[As a side note, I’ve often wondered what a Big Big Train or a Porcupine Tree would do with One of Our Submarines.]
A moment ago, I mentioned the vocals. Again, let me state: they are amazing, and these two brothers know how to sing together, and they especially know how to write vocal lines. They use their voices rather perfectly for the lyrics. In this way, they are far superior to Dolby or OMD.
If there’s a problem with the album, it’s the production of the bass and keyboards. The musicianship is excellent, but the end product sounds tinny. Frankly, I’m having a hard time gauging what’s exactly “not right” with them. I think it’s that the vocals are so good and so well done that the bass and drums sound a bit thin and superficial, as though they were added on merely to make this a pop album. It’s possible this is also due to the limitations of streaming the music—I’m listening to it streamed through an online promo on my MacBook Pro. So, not ideal listening conditions.
Back to the good. All Burn is pop in the best sense. There are lots and lots of catchy hooks and lots of returns and repeats to key sections in the music. Still, there’s enough mystery and variety in the music to make it not simply another pop outing. Songs such as “Dark Matter” have a Steven Wilson feel, and “April Blades” might have come from a Vangelis album. The music grows moodier and moodier as the album progresses. My favorite song, by far, is the penultimate track, “How to Be Young,” an existentialist pop navel gazer with lots of backwards production. The final song, “These Days,” is probably the poppiest, taking us back to an Alphaville moment.
Don’t let my criticisms hold you back. If you like good pop or pop prog, this album is for you. If you want to imagine what a “Golden Age of Wireless” would sound like in 2015, buy this. Or, if you simply love glorious vocals and vocalists, get this. I probably won’t come back to this album too often, but I am quite interested to see what they do next.