It feels like a few wires might have been crossed when it came to Stand Atlantic’s Pink Elephant, though it’s not like it would’ve twigged at the time. It did fairly well for them despite falling victim to ever-common pandemic flux, but the sonic shift that came to the fore is where most of the conversation laid, especially now. It was a move from a more standard pop-punk sound on their debut Skinny Dipping to something sharper and more rigid, in the vain of the blasted, highly-produced fare that a lot of pop-rock and alt-pop would adopt right up to now. It was divisive for sure, perhaps feeling indicative of a band leaping into a well of trends to keep themselves afloat, but f.e.a.r is decidedly different next step. It gives off the impression of compromise on Pink Elephant that’s being backed away from here, from the outright text of cabin fever to just how deeply Stand Atlantic have embraced tones of emo-rap and hyperpop to augment their contemporary-to-a-fault pop-rock framework.
The cynicism around that can be rather overpowering—this is still being released on the same label who must be aware how lucrative an edgy, rebellious narrative is, especially when it doesn’t dispense with the huge choruses—but on face value, this is the Stand Atlantic album that’s the easiest to become truly invested in. They’re moving in a direction that feels fresher and more unique to them, all while keeping the threads of what made them ear-catching in the first place intact. It says a lot that they’re where the band shine the brightest, where songs like doomsday or dumb work purely on the basis of their giant, propulsive hooks even after removing any auxiliary measures. There’s the greatest concentration of moments like that that leap out, and the fire underneath Stand Atlantic is a lot more fierce than what could sometimes feel a bit undercooked on their previous album. That also highlights how they aren’t quite submerged in full experimental ‘genrelessness’ though, as the shades of hyperpop on pity party and emo-rap on deathwish and cabin fever act more as secondary palettes. The effort is definitely there though, especially when Royal & The Serpent and nothing,nowhere. respectively can assist and both do fairly well, and given where Stand Atlantic’s base sound falls overall, they still feel connected rather than just unsubstantiated veers left.
Moreover, the effort that f.e.a.r displays when it comes to making its creative decisions feel worthwhile is noteworthy too. It’s easy to bucket it in with the rest of this wave of pop-rock, blown-out and swinging wide, driven by modern frustration and depression through a lens of conveniently broad relatability. And yeah, the shadows of that will tend to be there, but Stand Atlantic have awareness of how to exceed the trend of this terse, sharpened sound and subsequently hit higher. For starters, the lyricism is plainly more colourful and varied, to where the likes of van gogh and nails do enough in their central image alone to stand out. There’s also Bonnie Fraser’s delivery, where she pulls off the scrappier, hard-nosed attitude that actually sounds believably raw rather than stylised. The intent to strip back a lot of the glitz and polish can definitely be felt and appreciated; “I’ve got no time for all your fake bitch energy,” Fraser screams on pity party, with an intent equally applicable to dumb’s bemoaning of creative restrictions imposed by those more concerned with mass appeal, or molotov [OK]’s justifiable ire to Fraser’s bigoted Christian schoolteachers. Even with the instrumentation still sounding a bit too blocky and overworked in the guitars to meet personal tastes, it does fit with the mood, exposed and sharp to let a song like switchblade pick up a convincing heaviness and stomp.
Overall, there’s definitely a more liberated mood that f.e.a.r gives off, transitional enough to where you can tell that the shackles aren’t completely off, but loosened enough to where there’s a lot more space to move. It’s for that reason that it’s still not a ‘definitive’ sound for Stand Atlantic, but it’s easily the closest they’ve come to date, where their tastes of creative freedom add a zest that doesn’t go amiss at all. Within pop-rock, they’re doing a lot of things right in a sound and a lane that regularly limits itself, not only elevating them considerably, but really hammering home some of the hype that was their early on. f.e.a.r has some of the most concrete pieces of evidence to date that this band can be truly great, just waiting to be expanded upon and finally get the chance to wholly shine.
For fans of: Waterparks, Point North, Hot Milk
‘f.e.a.r’ by Stand Atlantic is released on 6th May on Hopeless Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall