Album Review: Wolf Club – Infinity

Wolf Club have quickly made a name for themselves as one of the most engaging popwave artists in and around the world of retro synth music, and although they may not yet receive the same recognition as similar artists like The Midnight and Timecop1983, their music in 2018 has regularly surpassed those acts in terms of overall quality. Infinity doesn’t quite reach the same level as the group’s excellent Chasing the Storm album from earlier this year, though there are more than enough quality pop tunes packed into the recording to satisfy fans of the modern, vocal-driven evolution of synthwave music.

As with the act’s previous two recordings, songs on Wolf Club’s Infinity could realistically mingle with recent creations from Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and other mainstream contemporary artists without seeming particularly out of place. In fact, the music has just as much in common with those creations as with the outrun music that started the synthwave genre, and it effortlessly combines retro and ultra modern flavors for a synth-happy pop package with small but tasty music morsels.

Synthwave purists may dismiss the deviant and unapologetically commercial allure of the songwriting style, which has severed many of its ties with true synthwave music, though fans of the increasingly vibrant and popular evolutions of popwave and dreamwave music will find numerous tracks to enjoy.

The album’s first true highlights arrives in the form of “Can’t Stop Falling in Love,” which features one of the most memorable and addictive vocal hooks on the recording. A patient verse section leads effortlessly into the chorus while a punctuated melody joins in with the vocals for an ultra smooth delivery. The song is likable on the first playthrough and improves across repeat listens as the infectious chorus melody becomes increasingly familiar to the ears.

“The Sun Lasts Forever” is a similar highlight, delivering a fully modern songwriting approach with a handsome vocal melody. The singer’s voice move across a lively rhythm with crisp percussion and quick synth tones for the most energetic track on the recording. It’s relentless in its sugary buoyancy and fully succeeds in its songwriting intent. The song is the synthwave equivalent of an upbeat Katy Perry tune, and like most popwave music, feels distinctly aimed at a younger demographic. For better or worse, “The Sun Lasts Forever” would fit perfectly as the background music for a house party scene in a retro-flavored teen flick.

Once again, older listeners may have trouble fully embracing the youthful, modern style of the music, though listeners in their teens and 20s should have no trouble bouncing to its dancefloor rhythm.

“Had to Get You” features more traditional synthwave instrumentation, opening with a heavy, outrun-style beat and a soft vocal performance that recalls pieces of ’80s melodic rock. With its driving rhythm and darker synth tones, the song is one of the more compelling tracks on Infinity, and it works well to balance out some of the contemporary-minded entries like “The Sun Lasts Forever.” In fact, if there’s one song on the recording that could reach hardcore synthwave fans, it’s “Had to Get You.”

One final highlight arrives on the closer, “Binary Stars,” which delivers a twinkling intro melody that harkens straight back to ’80s cartoons and toy commercials. When the modern vocal delivery floats in to lead the music, it forms a healthy contrast of eras and music ideas for a picturesque popwave tune. It’s one of the most likable entries on the recording, and a fitting conclusion to the tracklist.

The songs in-between those mentioned above are often enjoyable in their own right, even if they aren’t exactly mind-blowing in their delivery. Although it’s hard to find an unlikeable piece on the entire album, there is one aspect of the songwriting that affects nearly every entry, and that’s the shallow song structures.

Even the highly enjoyable “Can’t Stop Falling in Love” suffers under an uninspired design with two verse sections, two chorus sections, and precisely nothing else. There’s no intro, no break, and no subtle progression or incorporation of new elements as the music advances. As far as pop tunes go, the structure is as unimaginative as it gets.

Fortunately, Wolf Club has recognized the track’s simplicity and smartly checked out at just over three minutes to preserve its integrity before it burns out in repetition. This is consistently and mercifully true throughout the recording, as even the longest track on the album, “Binary Stars,” clocks in at just 3:28. The short song lengths are essential for the minimal complexity of the structures — a lesson the majority of synthwave producers have yet to learn — but that doesn’t stop the music from feeling slightly underdeveloped.

It’s worth mentioning that previous releases from Wolf Club were structurally similar to the tracks on Infinity, delivering three-minute-long pieces with straightforward compositions. What’s missing this time around is a certain subtlety and strength of melody that made Chasing the Storm a satisfying slice of cake and Infinity more of a pack of bubblegum that loses its flavor too soon.

Many tracks are stuffed into the same shapeless composition as “Can’t Stop Falling in Love” without the same level of melodic charm. They aren’t necessarily bad songs, just forgettable ones. “Endless Highway” offers a gently pleasing chorus performance, though there’s too little meaningful variety within the predictable structure to help it stay interesting for even its short three-minute running time.

“Go” is similarly ordinary, reducing Wolf Club’s ABAB structure to an amazingly basic AB format. Unlike The Bad Dreamers’ brilliant “Hit Me Harder” track, which essentially employs the same AB format with cerebral and artful results, “Go” feels like it was written in the car on the way to work. The catchy vocal melody is given little room to breathe or explore its accompanying instrumentation, and is instead relegated to a tiny creative box where it struggles to establish an identity.

Other tracks fare even worse, such as “Faster,” which offers barren dreamwave instrumentation that makes even Timecop1983’s repetitive songwriting seem ambitious. The plain synth tones and simple structure ultimately burn out a well executed vocal performance for arguably the weakest entry on the recording. The title track is similarly stripped down.

At the risk of being overly speculative, it might be worth remembering that the excellent Chasing the Storm dropped in early June of this year, which means this new album manifested in less than six months. It’s not unheard of for electronic artists to put out more than one great recording in a year. Unfortunately, Infinity is not a shining example of high output paired with high quality. The fact that the album exists under the banner of NewRetroWave, which has established a year-long trend of dropping disappointing releases from talented artists, is similarly hard to ignore.

Although Infinity remains a likable release from start to finish — and fares significantly better than recent popwave efforts like The Midnight’s half-hearted Kids album — many of its songs are missing the small details and creative spark that made Chasing the Storm such a pleasure to hear. There was a certain melodic charm in tracks like “Things Were Simpler Then” and “Caught in the Night” that salvaged their simple compositions, and that sense of inspired songwriting is difficult to find on the new recording.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that Infinity is too little too soon, especially in comparison to The Bad Dreamers’ outstanding Songs About People Including Myself. To put it simply, the recording feels rushed.

Despite these complaints, Wolf Club’s latest offering remains a pleasant recording with a handful of stellar songs that are worth seeking out. Infinity‘s shortcomings do little to change Wolf Club’s status as one of the most talented and valuable popwave acts around, even if a fan might be justified in hoping for more substance and songwriting flair than the album delivers.

Rating: 78 / 100 (Good)

Songwriting: 8
Execution: 9
Production: 8
Song Variety: 9
Consistency: 7
Memorability: 6
(Click here for a full explanation of the grading scale.)

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