It feels as though Night Riots are one significant push away from really breaking out, and that can be taken in a couple of different ways. A lot of it traces back to their 2016 album Love Gloom, which did put in quite a bit of work in picking up traction with its mainstream indie-pop crossbred with more bombastic pop-rock and alt-pop of an act like Panic! At The Disco. From that description alone, it’s fairly easy to gather how Night Riots could be seen as the next marketable commodity in a larger, more metropolitan alternative scene, but despite those very clear openings (and the fact that Love Gloom was actually rather good), they’ve largely been left alone as a fairly underground commodity. And that’s where the sinking feeling with New State Of Mind comes in, as every single has felt indicative of a band cutting out the middleman and gatecrashing the mainstream party with a grab-bag of even more synthetic indie-pop tones with next to no cohesion or consistency between any of them. Up to now, it’s felt like the sort of calculated move designed to operate the Twenty One Pilots headspace of eclecticism, but one that also feels overly confused with what exactly it wants to accomplish, and leaves any positive hopes for New State Of Mind as tenuous at best.
In truth though, New State Of Mind isn’t so much a terrible album as a misguided one. It’s rather startling how well Night Riots can construct a genuinely sticky hook, but the polished, sythesised and often directionless indie-pop that surrounds them can severely dampen the impact at points. It makes the pivot that Night Riots are looking to make feel a lot more cluttered overall; the bending towards modern indie is certainly prominent, but it’s accompanied by shades of everything going back to around the mid-2000s, and it leads to an album that certainly has moments of charm and infectiousness, but can be bogged down in the way it gets to them.
That melodic ability really shouldn’t be ignored though, especially when, at their best, Night Riots deliver a real potency and strident concision for some standout indie-pop moments. Tokyo Diamond Eyes is an exceptionally strong start with its glossy, galloping, Killers-esque pop-rock that highlights just how much Travis Hawley sounds like Brandon Flowers, while the firm bass and whirring synths of Flashy Love and the thick ‘80s pulse and reverberating guitar fragments of Leave Us Alone establish that there is a variety within Night Riots’ canon that can be effective when properly used. It’s just a shame that when the rest of New State Of Mind takes that approach, there’s a general ham-fistedness to the co-opted indie tones that feel overwrought and underpowered. There’s too much of an onus placed on sounds that are either too lumbering to pick up steam, or for which the exposed, brittle pieces betray a desire to come across as small-scale and homespun, but have very little past that in the composition to back them up. The blurred-over synths and guitar of Loyal To The Game and Colour Morning might be pretty, but the rigid beat on each immediately saps any liquid flow that could be present; meanwhile, Talk About It and Not Too Late try to emulate the part-swirling bombast / part-sharper crackle of Bastille or Imagine Dragons, but end up surprisingly leaden and in need of at least another draft.
Away from all that, it puts the onus on the fundamentals of the album to succeed, and to Night Riots’ credit, it’s not like this is something that couldn’t work. The production emphasises the grainy ‘80s synths and heartland rock romanticism that’s usually found with Walk The Moon or late-period Killers albums which is a nice touch, and there’s a fluidity and clarity to Hawley’s vocals that results in residual anthemic size that elevates pretty much everything here by a notch or two. It’s not much, but it gives Night Riots something to work with overall, and the net level of success is generally increased by them. Even the writing, which in truth, could do with a bit more flavour beyond silver-screen relationship melodrama, at least fits with what they’re going for, and while it can be a bit bland at points, it manages to get the job done.
But at the end of the day, it’s hard not to view New State Of Mind as either blatantly transitional, or as a rather thudding misstep for Night Riots. The lack of a set direction really does prove a hindrance, and when each individual sound feels like a random product of a decade’s worth of indie-pop (most of which doesn’t hold up that greatly on its own, for the record), it leaves an album that’s profoundly messy when it’s not stumbling upon moments of genuine quality seemingly by accident. If nothing else, that’s in keeping with the vast majority of modern indie-pop that Night Riots evidently want to get amongst, and if New State Of Mind does prove to be the album to get them over that threshold, more power to them. But their sense of identity simply isn’t here anymore, and when that has such an effect on the material they’re producing, it’s worth considering how worth it that all is.
For fans of: The Killers, Bad Suns, Walk The Moon
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘New State Of Mind’ by Night Riots is released on 26th July on Sumerian Records.