Thursday, June 30, 2016

Conscious | Broods



Georgia and Caleb Nott of Broods aren't quite the same duo that they were in 2014. They've opened for Sam Smith, Haim, and Ellie Goulding twice over, collaborated with Troye Sivan, and filtered themselves into the American market since the release of their debut album – their debut album that was created hand-in-hand with Joel Little and reflected the restlessness and naiveté of the two as they looked to expand from their root-bound positions in their native New Zealand. In turn, they've come back swinging with their second full-length effort, Conscious.

Whereas their debut, Evergreen, played out behind a smoke screen of subtlety, Conscious is declarative. It spurs its energy in all of the right places without leaving Georgia – a thinner-voiced woman than most who often employs double-tracks and vocal harmony layers galore to deliver truly magical moments – behind, gasping for air. She does, however, co-headline this album, sharing the spotlight with an infrastructure composed of layers upon layers of synthwork and dashes of elements that can be reproduced in a live setting without staggering differences in translation – and that's really what they set out to create here to begin with.

As a listener, it is sometimes difficult to decide which element of each song on which to focus – and I say that with the best of intentions. After all, the most notable tracks are the multilayered, grade-A bangers; "Hold the Line" throws itself into a fit of electronic magic at its chorus, while "Are You Home" does the same, with lighter results suitable for an all-out dance session. And the title track begs to be accompanied by a light show like no other as the finale of a sold-out show, with a haunting chorus of vocals droning between thick, gritty spits of synthesizers.

All the while, Georgia is embedded in these soundscapes, singing from her own and Caleb's perspectives on relationships – many of them turbulent and near their ends. Although they've ditched Evergreen's angle of maturity and growth, they haven't lost their poetic tongues in transition to this high-gloss, supercharged sound and strictly love-centric affair; they do submit to the most powerful pop weapon – the power of repetition – once, on "Recovery," but the song is so infectious that little attention is paid to the phrase they latch onto and beat until it's dead.

Rarely does this record find itself in the middle ground of its predecessors -- that moment comes most notably on "Heartlines," a Lorde co-signed track that sounds very... well... Lorde. (Georgia's delivery on this one all but guarantees a Lorde-fronted demo of it is tucked away in a hard drive far, far away.) Elsewhere, the Nott siblings either gallivant with the electric tracks that keep the record alive and well or wallow in sappy ballads, without transition to one mood from the other. The ballads offer give some sonic space for Georgia to explore the strengths of her vocals (spare "Freak of Nature," when Tove Lo, 2016's most popular featured artist, offers strong competition with meatier vocals), but as beautiful as most of them are, they do tend to pump the brakes a bit too often for an album otherwise kicked into overdrive.

Once again, let's not forget that these two are now accustom to opening for arena acts; they're not in New Zealand anymore, Toto. And as they have promised in interviews time after time, this album reflects that: these tracks, produced by Joel Little, Alex Hope, and Broods themselves, are stadium fillers, meant to reach every last inch of the venue. They've curated an album optimized for a live extravaganza, with the inclusion heavier beats, implementation of organic instrumental elements, and abandonment of lyrical coyness. It's the maximalist road down which tourmate Ellie Goulding traveled for her third album, and despite matters of diminished idiosyncrasies in such a move, they have proved that steps towards commercial pop are not always steps away from quality.

Conscious is out now under Capitol Records.

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Maira Gall