Sunday, June 16, 2019

Review: Doom Days • Bastille

Dreariness found a home behind Dan Smith’s honeysuckle tenor long ago. It pairs naturally, of course, with the basis of most music Smith releases with pop-rock group Bastille: Beneath every great Bastille song is a distant feeling of tragedy. While the band’s Stateside smasher "Pompeii" obviously channels its titular disaster, even experimental cuts from the group’s quartet of mixtapes are riddled with anxiety. But perhaps their feelings are justified: Bad news will forever be an integral pillar of society, even as we turn the music louder in an attempt to blur its impact.

Bastille’s bloated sophomore attempt, Wild World, dropped in the fall of 2016 amid rising sociopolitical tensions, and it saw Smith paralyzed with a fear of what could (and ultimately did) become. And on the group’s third outing, he learns to cope: The narrative of Doom Days is mapped clearly, allowing Smith to duck away from polarized cable news and into an electric house party. And while there, he convinces himself that personal moments of enjoyment shouldn’t become a source of shame, even when the world is hurting in a much grander scheme – but that those moments should be temporary, giving way to deeper thought to the world around him.

Over the past decade, the guys in Bastille have led double lives – one as a commercially viable, post-Coldplay outfit, and one as genre-ignorant, relatively flexible mixtape pushers. Admittedly, their commercial work always has been the safer and most scrubbed product – until now, as their lives collide. “Million Pieces,” a dance track kept in form with a tinny trap beat, was interpolated on the band’s last Other People’s Heartache collection before its release here, and “Nocturnal Creatures,” though an integral pick-me-up for the record’s pacing, could have slid into a mixtape’s offerings just as easily. It’s a promising sign of evolution, but in a world which will soon contain a major-label, PC Music-endorsed collaborative pop record from Charli XCX, a more major shift for Bastille would be very much welcome.

With minor alterations to tried and true Bastille tactics, the record does not outright abandon the art of the anthem: There’s a buzzing energy about opening number “Quarter Past Minute,” and toward the record’s finale, “Another Place” is another intersection between Bastille and dance music. Between its bookends, however, Doom Days finds focus on the fluid trajectory than the extreme climaxes of its after-hours party. And while Smith tries his best to build a wall of booze and bodies, reality seeps through its crooked seams. Eternal loneliness dominates the delicate “Those Nights,” even as Smith prepares to crawl back home for a romp in the sack; the title track acts as a sobering panic attack at the record’s halfway point, on which he begins to question the phones, the news, the Snapchat stories, and the sex around him.

Compared to the group’s double-disc debut and the 20 tracks delivered via Wild World, Doom Days is by far Bastille’s leanest affair and carries the most cohesive narrative. Even still, the typical peaks and valleys of a Bastille record were not leveled out – perhaps to mimic the ebb and flow of a party, or perhaps because it’s just what Bastille do. While Bastille by-the-number tracks like "The Waves" and "Joy," for example, are perfectly fine tracks, they don’t allure enough to justify their lack of progression. But Doom Days still manages to stick the landing as an enjoyable enough record, fulfilling everything a Bastille album should: A little bit of despair and a little bit of thought within some moody soundscapes, plus melodies aplenty to make it go down easily.

Doom Days is available now under Virgin EMI Records.

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