With the ubiquity of acts like The 1975 and Twenty One Pilots (particularly amongst the rock media who, once upon a time, would never have touched them with a barge pole), it’s quite the surprise that imitators haven’t begun to crop up sooner. After all, with the success and extensive fanbases those bands have accumulated, basically by playing a more off-kilter brand of pop, pulling off a similar feat and reaping similar rewards should be easy, right? Well, not necessarily. With genres that are leached down the line in terms of band size, a notable tier effect begins to form with regards to quality, and with a genre like alt-pop which has little to no room for error (from a subjective standpoint, at least), breaking into such a narrow market is more difficult than it seems.
Which brings us nicely to Alvarez Kings, the Yorkshire quartet who’ve been building their buzz thanks to high-profile support slots with Pvris and Melanie Martinez. Straight away, it’s easy to see the land in which this band are trying to establish themselves, something that’s fully crystallised with their debut full-length Somewhere Between. And yet, from the very first song, this feels like an album trying to capitalise on a sound rather than expand on it, and Alvarez Kings struggle with even that. It’s not even that they’re completely missing the mark either, as the foundations they’ve got are just right, particularly in the instrumentation, built on a combination of shimmering, watery synths akin to acts like Coldplay or U2, and the more tropical touches of Coasts or The 1975 on tracks like Cold Conscience and Tell-Tale Heart. The problem is that, for such an integral part of Alvarez Kings’ sound, none of these synths have any colour and feel so flat and dull. On a track like Run From You where every synth tone bleeds together into a buzzing, beige cacophony, it’s so sluggish and plodding, the same problem that afflicts almost all of this album. As for the accompanying instrumentation, it’s more of a mixed bag; the Mumford And Sons-esque guitars that show up on No Resolve add a bit more muscle if not exactly texture, but the additional electronics are far too mechanical and clash horribly with the more fluid synths, like the skittering, sequenced backbeat on Fear To Feel, or especially the stabs of keys on Sleepwalking Pt. II.
At least with these sorts of acts the instrumentation takes a back seat to the lyricism as it is, but even so, Somewhere Between in decidedly underwhelming. Say what you want about The 1975 or Twenty One Pilots, but they at least incorporate some interesting imagery or flavour into their lyrics; Alvarez Kings hold firmly onto extremely broad sentiments of love whose lack of detail or personality leaves them positively anaemic. Postcards From Berlin at the very least tries to go beyond the very basics of romantic platitudes, but compared to some of the gems on offer, like the title track’s cringeworthy clichés like “I’d walk through the fires for you”, any lasting impression it has is severely diluted. Couple that with Simon Thompson’s vocals which are over-emotional at best and whinging at worst, it’s a saccharine pill to swallow, even by the standards of alt-pop.
Then again, there’s bound to be an audience for this sort of thing given how well Alvarez Kings’ brand of big emotions often goes down. And that can work, but only if it’s tempered with a level of detail to prevent it from being completely derivative, and that’s something that Alvarez Kings don’t do. Between an instrumental canvas that fades as quickly as it arrives and lyrics that have precious little to say beyond boilerplate, virtually unfinished schmaltz, Somewhere Between couldn’t feel less essential if it tried. It definitely sounds pretty at points, but when that’s the greatest compliment that can be paid, repeated listens aren’t on the cards.
For fans of: The 1975, Coldplay, Echosmith
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Somewhere Between’ by Alvarez Kings is out now on Warner Bros. Records / Sire Records.