Chain Wallet’s self-titled debut LP tries to take listeners back in time, with sparkling synths and bouncing kick-snare drum pad beats recalling the glossy sounds of ‘80s synth pop and indie music. It achieves its goals, but the question at the heart of any discussion that centres on this piece of work must tackle whether such goals were worth setting out in the first place.
In an age where generic retro indie-dance music can be heard on loop in every Topshop, H&M and New Look in the country, one has to wonder whether any of this really matters. If it does, then why? Have Chain Wallet anything interesting to say or do that hasn’t been said or done before?
Though they share the aesthetic qualities of many contemporary British acts, the Bergen-based group finds inspiration from its surroundings, thematically exploring the murky Norwegian weather and the dark underbelly of Scandinavia exposed so often through other artistic mediums. There is also a highly personal element to the Chain Wallet’s work, with band member Frode Boris explaining: ‘We want to capture the acute distress of an afflicted character; his self-indulgent pity, gradual loss of touch with reality and his forlorn attempts on returning to normal life.’
The album may well be about ‘fragmented memories, unfulfilled ambitions and the quiet whisper of a stranger’, but on a superficial level it feels vivacious, effervescent. It shines and sparkles with smooth production and wandering melodies, rarely staying in one place and evolving texturally on a constant basis.
Muted Colours is notable for the relevance of its title if nothing else. The track itself is bland, but one can hear the effort put into the album’s thematic wholeness. While the colours of the song’s subject matter may feel muted, the vocal performance is equally obscured by the band’s instruments. Echoing guitars and overwhelming synths drown the vocals in a sea of noise; this works thematically, but is not much fun to listen to.
While the ‘fragmented’ state of mind is conveyed effectively throughout the album, as a pop record – and this band has certainly aligned itself with a set of pop music ideals – it is a difficult listen. The vocals are indistinct and thus distant, unreachable and impossible to connect with, whilst the instrumental arrangement is so polished and overproduced that it feels like complete artifice.
Chain Wallet works as a pop record, but it is not exceptional. Lyrically, it seems to be going somewhere interesting but clashes with the melody-heavy direction of its instrumentation. Casual listeners will find a passable album here, but scratch beneath the surface and one finds a confused piece of work lacking in direction and identity.