Reviews:: Athlete Beyond the Neighborhood

My first exposure to the new Athlete record - Beyond the Neighborhood - came as I started my ascent to 34,000 ft and I don't think I could have picked a more fitting situation. As my plane climbed through the storm clouds that filled the Vancouver night, the simple programming of In Between 2 States resonated between my left and right ear buds. The song's gradual build mirrored the climb of the plane until we broke through the clouds with a crescendo of static ambiance, drum beats and keys.

As we reached cruising altitude, the record took on a much more crisp, level pace led by the catchy guitar of Hurrricane. The song pulsed forward, imploring a structure that was contradictory to the title, allowing the listener to settle into a head-nodding groove. The band finds another pleasant hook on Tokyo. The formula is the same - an ear pleasing riff that booms on the chorus - but it's hard to complain when the keyboards and drums fit together like a well stacked Jenga tower.

The record returns to the ambient, ethereal Album Leaf electronics on Airport Disco, using sparse, stacatto drum textures as the backbone for Joel's voice. The guitar is added slowly, keeping the sound fresh before jumping into another anthematic climax. What I really like about the track is the restraint the band shows over the course of the five minutes. Sure it uses another constant build, but it is so gradual and fades so quickly that you aren't overwhelmed and can really focus on the understated current running through the song.

The Outsider - which sadly makes no reference to Pony Boy - throws in a nice 80's hip hop drum kick, swirling sound effects and piano that all share the space with the double tracked vocals. It's much lighter musically, but it really lets you take a breath after the onslaught of boomers. It's also right about the point you realize the band has hit you with 6 solid tracks without any missteps.

To use an obvious athletic analogy, BtN isn't booming 120-mph serves past you, instead the band makes you run back and forth across the baseline chasing after their well placed ground strokes. The consistency they deliver is a welcome change in an era of records filled with countless misses and very little hits. They know what elements sound good together (and more importantly, how to mix electronic textures with the organic instrumentation without cluttering the sound) and resist the urge to try too much by adding constant shifts in mood and tempo.

The second half of the record is much more atmospheric and songs ike This Is What I Sound Like really show the strength of the arrangements. The subtle sounds balance the churning computer effects nicely and close the record on a high note.

MP3:: In Between 2 States
MP3:: Airport Disco

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