At this point, it’s difficult to work out why anyone keeps coming back to HalfNoise. There’s the draw of a solo project from Paramore drummer Zac Farro, sure, but to date, there’s not been one release under this moniker that’s actually stuck or felt like a truly worthwhile endeavour. It’s frustrating to witness too, not only because Paramore’s move to brighter, more groove-heavy pop clearly hasn’t rubbed off on Farro’s own work, but because there’s a prolificness to this project that doesn’t seem to have been justified, given that transitions between various styles under the electro-indie banner have yielded very little to work with. And yet, clearly something somewhere is working here, especially when Natural Disguise is the third HalfNoise full-length that, judging from early singles, is undergoing yet another shift to a tighter, disco-inspired sound. And to be fair, that does seem to be doing the trick; there’s been a clear improvement in terms of raw memorability, and these more interesting compositions have displayed more potential to work than pretty much anything HalfNoise have done to date.

That’s a pretty fair assumption to make as well, as Natural Disguise sees Farro – both figuratively and literally – settle into a groove that’s far more vibrant and embracing of its looseness than anything he’s done under the HalfNoise name to date. It feels like side-project work without that being a pejorative, with Farro putting together his classic, knowingly uncool impulses in a way that finds an ideal middle ground between kitschy, old-school disco and psychedelic pop and runs a good distance with it.

The impression that Farro is leaning into that sense of kitsch is pretty easy to grasp, too; the frankly ridiculous interlude The Groove Is Divine is a dead giveaway, but in the weightless, slightly interpretable lyrics delivered in a combination of his reedy upper register and a softer, mid-ranged style eased into the back of the mix, it’s not like there’s any swinging for the fences going on when it comes to capturing the modern pop zeitgeist. That’s honestly why Natural Disguise is as likable as it is though, as the plucky basslines and roiling, clicking grooves of Boogie Juice / Apple Man and Moody Disco Blue fall into the heady, dank lanes of acts like Jungle and Glass Animals, only slightly more blunted in execution. That’s not a criticism though, as the scratchier production on the guitars and bass inject a warmth into the mix almost akin to garage-rock, but doing so without sacrificing the litheness that’s so crucial in giving tracks like Who Could You Be and Cinnamon Sugar their propulsiveness. It’s where the psychedelic aspect of this sound feels the most realised as well; there are definitely moments where the heady swirls of reverb and ambience can feel all but lost in terms of direction on a track like Beautiful Someone, but bringing them in to fill in the gaps on Boogie Juice / Apple Man and Get Gone leads to a busier, more robust sound that, for a style of music that can just as easily rest of its vibe and forgo everything else, is a level of detail that’s appreciated.

Granted, it’s not like Natural Disguse doesn’t prioritise that sense of vibe, but when all the small additions are factored in, the results are much more than the sum of their parts. Vibe is one thing, but an engaging, unashamedly fun listen like this is very much a couple of steps above, and even if it might have taken Farro a while to reach that stage with HalfNoise, this is undoubtedly it. It’s far from a classic, though that feels like the intention than any sort of real criticism, and Farro does enough on Natural Disguise where he’s able to lean into that goal and still impress. It’s easily the best HalfNoise release to date, and hopefully a sign of more good things to come.

7/10

For fans of: half•alive, Friendly Fires, Jungle
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Natural Disguise’ by HalfNoise is out now on LAB Records.

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