Crossing the Rubicon
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There’s a little bit of an ‘80s child inside everyone. Whether you proudly allow yours to show its neon colors or keep it buried as deeply as you do that faded Members Only jacket in the back of your closet is up to you. Swedish band The Sounds are not afraid to pay homage to the era on their third record Crossing the Rubicon, but do so notably more subtly than on previous efforts.
Rubicon had to “cross” that same tricky barrier that most third records do-one where bands hope to push themselves artistically without alienating their original fanbase. In doing so, it’s easily the band’s most mature and accessible record to date. Rather than growing out of the new wave/punk roots they had been known for since 2003’s Living in America, the quintet seems to have finally grown into them. They sound like The Killers’ happier, younger cousins, who maybe haven’t experienced the same heartache as “Mr. Brightside” yet, but have a bottle of Prozac handy, just in case. You could easily hear The Killers’ Brandon Flowers singing several cuts off Rubicon, but quite frankly you wouldn’t want to-lead singer Maja Ivarsson’s voice possesses a dreamy but tough edge that keeps the songs from fading into relative new wave obscurity.
Opening track and lead-off single “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake” more closely echoes the vocal harmonies and flashy guitar runs of ‘80s hair bands than the synth-pop of Blondie or the Cars (to whom The Sounds are often compared), but fans of Jesper Anderberg’s synth work need not worry. Songs like “Beatbox” and “Lost in Love” are heavy on the synth, punchy bass, and shimmering distorted chord stabs, and even heavier on the dance.
Other standouts include the title track, which starts off like a power ballad but ends (too soon) on a haunting vocal harmony that explores musical territory previously uncharted by Ivarrson and her men.
Critics of the band’s earlier work cite its inconsistency and lack of cohesive direction, but Rubicon is a different story. With this effort, The Sounds are not, as their name implies, a random assortment of instruments and noise. The Sounds have a sound, and it’s one we dare you to get out of your head any time soon.