By spilledmilkfactory 0 Comments
I had every reason to anticipate Reptar’s sophomore LP, Lurid Glow. Drawn to the indie rock quartet’s energetic sound and singer Graham Ulicny’s elastic voice by videos of their wild live shows, I came to the band a few years late but no less enthusiastic than their most ardent fans. Orifice Origami was the first of their songs to worm its way into my head, with Ulciny’s throaty shouts - “Something’s not right here!” - baiting the hook that reeled me in to playing their first LP on repeat during my daily transit. A month later, Lurid Glow caught me smack in the middle of my Reptar fandom phase. So what went wrong?
Lurid Glow launched the night of March 30th. My girlfriend was at my house sick with a cold, and I was making dinner for her using a recipe on my phone when I got the notification that my album pre-order was ready to go. A few hours later, everyone else in the house asleep, I sat down on the couch in the silence of dead night and pressed Play. I hadn’t set aside an hour of the night to listen to music like this since I was a teenager, but then again, I hadn’t found a band quite like Reptar since then, either. My anticipation was palpable as the first notes of the album popped from the tiny speaker of my phone like digital bubblegum. It sounded for all the world like the start of another solid Reptar piece.
Five songs into Lurid Glow, I began to worry. Something indeed was not right here. The opener, No One Will Ever Love You, began with promise but developed into a mushy chorus without a memorable melody to speak of. It was followed up by the album’s two singles, Ice Black Sand and Cable.
The former is a fantastic horn-driven piece, a reminder of the type of strong melodies and evocative, fleshly lyrics the group is capable of. “No good person in the heart of life/Words flow out into an open mouth,” Ulicny’s voice sails like a cool breeze, just before the song explodes into a brassy finale. It’s a roaring, stomping good time, and it feels like the start of the album proper.
Cable follows it up with a tighter, more urgent vibe, leering guitars still backed by horns, giving the song both the diversity and the sense of continuity needed to make it feel like a natural extension of the band’s new, brassy sound demonstrated by Ice Black Sand. Ulicny’s voice lowers to a sinister growl at the end of each of the song’s opening verses, a lurid exclamation point to drive his lyrics home. Halfway through the song, the tempo changes and the instrumentation opens up slightly, giving way to a rousing chant that turns to a scream as the music intensifies - “I want to be yours!”
If Lurid Glow continued in this direction, it would undoubtedly be another great rock album in what is becoming a fantastic year for the genre. However, the album’s fifth song, Sea of Fertility, shoots for the same peppy melodies but falls far short. It’s a sad sort of song, lyrically speaking, and it comes across as the work of a man tired and beaten. Reptar has proven themselves capable of intertwining the maudlin with the joyful in a way that can make their albums feel like an engaging drama. Sea of Fertility lacks the earnest, naive sort of sorrow that made songs like Ghost Bike and Water Runs hit so close to the heart, though. It comes across as jaded and angry instead, and the attempt at a hook in the chorus feels half-hearted and forced.
The album’s fifth song, Amanda, dives right back into the indistinct sounds of No One Will Ever Love You. Both songs begin with a premise rife for some of that trademark Reptar passion, the energy and sharp wit that lent their previous works such a danceable flavor, but tinged with a darker energy. Instead, we got mopey lyrics and a dull pace to match. “Do you love me?”, Ulicny repeats halfheartedly over a repetitive synth/marimba melody. Not right now, no.
The rest of the album continues at this pace, with songs that either sound childish in their oversimplification of heartache and angst (Easier to Die), or hollow in their attempts at finding a hook as engaging and immediate as Reptar’s previous works (Every Chance I Get). Particle Board, a five-minute wave of alien synths, distorted vocals, and anxious drum machines, rights the ship just in time for a solid finish, but the album’s final song, the six-minute Breezy Leafy, defies its name as a weighty slow-mover that doesn’t develop until its second half. It’s a solid song, and one of the better ones on Lurid Glow, but it isn’t as moving a finale as Body Faucet’s closer, City of Habits. Regardless, its repeated anthem - “I miss you, miss you/Baby/I miss you” - delivered with a sad sort of wail, at least hits at the heart of the simplicity and emotion that made Reptar’s previous work so accessible in spite of thick instrumentation and vocals.
The resulting album is one with few standout tracks, a disappointment to both those who were hoping for a release as energetic as Reptar’s past works, and to those looking for the band to channel that energy into a darker sort of wit. Where are the sharp hooks of Orifice Origami? The impish enthusiasm and parroted vocals of Houseboat Babies? The childlike purity of Ghost Bike? The shambling, rambling acidity of Sweet Sipping Soda? The unrestrained joy of New House? Reptar have proven themselves capable of reinventing themselves on a track-by-track basis in the past, but with the exception of its two singles, Lurid Glow marks a reinvention devoid of enthusiasm or wit.
More worrying still is how the lack of energy and earnest sentiment present on Lurid Glow might affect the band’s live performance. The group seems to have accumulated its passionate fanbase almost entirely through live performance, as each of the Reptar fans I’ve heard defend the group’s work were first drawn in by the jumping, dancing, and screaming that characterized Reptar’s concerts. It was this energy that had me so excited to attend my first Reptar show in a little under a month, but with limp melodies driving most of the faster material, and slow material making up half of the album, I have to wonder if Lurid Glow will deflate the group’s bubbly, dance-driven concert performance. And if so many of the group’s fans were cultivated in such a peppy environment, will they stick around if the energy isn’t there on this latest tour?
Lurid Glow is the textbook definition of a sophomore slump, and it’s one that has me worried about whether or not Reptar can hit its mark in the long term. Ice Black Sand and Cable introduce a promising new sound for the group, but it’s squandered by a lack of enthusiasm on the faster tracks, and a poisonous sort of angst on many of its slower ones. This lack of energy is all the more disappointing when framed by how well Reptar has managed to pace its albums in the past - a trend I hope to see reemerge in the future.
Standout tracks: Ice Black Sand, Cable, Particle Board, Breezy Leafy