Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New Chance - The Tough Alliance

A New Chance

The Tough Alliance
Modular / Sincerely Yours Records.

SCQ Rating: 65%

The past few years have proven what indie-critics everywhere suspected: there’s something remarkable lurking in Sweden’s drinking water. What else could explain the Scandinavian breakthrough that has introduced us to Jens Lekman, Taken By Trees, Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn & John, Loney, Dear, and now, add The Tough Alliance to the list. Unlike their sensitive colleagues, Tough Alliance are closer in sound to Studio (hey, also Swedes!); a duo who mix reggae rhythms with 80s pop songwriting for a less introspective objective. Where Studio turn left, however, choosing The Cure and Depeche Mode for inspiration, Tough Alliance aim straight for the dancefloor with A New Chance; a mini-LP of flashy electronic pop.

No track makes this more abundantly clear than ‘Miami’; the synth-heavy rave-up featuring a looped call and answer chorus screaming “Ecstacy!!” over some coy “la la la”’s. It’s as fearless as it is meaningless, meant to move you physically and forget yourself mentally. Such instinctual euphoria is what The Tough Alliance aim for, whether it be the Clash-anthem ‘First Class Riot or ‘The Last Dance’s new wave shuffle. Both are capable distractions for hype-hungry bloggers, but seem designed to be forgotten; there’s no depth or tension to properly round-out this material and few lyrics that provide more than vocal presence. A song like ‘Looking For Gold’ in particular leaves us grasping at strands of lyrical or melodic insight, weary for any sign of actual significance. That’s where The Tough Alliance really define themselves from the bass-heavy, longhand compositions of Studio; where Studio take sunny, reggae muses and wrap them in new wave shadows, Tough Alliance remove pop’s inherent drama (in other words, its romance), effectively castrating pop by making it poppier.

The whole of A New Chance isn’t as brainless, thankfully boasting some strong electro-pop concoctions in its second half. The pop-heavy early dose of ‘Something Special’ and ‘Miami’ is revisited and improved upon in the final couplet, ‘Neo Violence’ and ‘1981 – ‘, which undertakes a closer study of electronic textures and dance-pop songwriting. The upgrades shown in ‘Neo Violence’ move gracefully into ‘1981 – ‘s spritely keyboard tapping, which move briskly amid a growing chorus of woodwinds. The vocals are infrequent, its mood original, but most importantly: the closing track of A New Chance finds these Swedes mixing peppy dance keys with zen-like organic instruments. Suddenly, The Tough Alliance seem to be looking forward, discarding their treasure-trove of nostalgic hooks and embarking upon a musical landscape so much richer in possibilities.

Although I’m consciously fighting the unwarranted hype that reflects this SCQ Rating, it’s difficult to ignore or accept such lavish praise by some of indie-rock’s top critics. There’s no doubt: A New Chance is simply one of countless blogger sensations of 2008; placed upon a pedestahl built suddenly than suspiciously vacated with only vapour trails and month-old blog-chatter to ascertain it was real. While they are not the next big thing, The Tough Alliance are the latest addition to Sweden’s vastly admirable roster and certainly a band worth watching.

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