Negative Gain Productions
It’s hard not to be charmed by Cygnets. Their already sizeable discography falls into the nexus of synthpop and new wave sounds, but unlike many nominally similar acts the Edmonton trio have a deep grasp of where using genre signifiers ends, and crafting hummable and danceable songs begins. Their latest release (and second for Negative Gain productions) has its share of cracking tunes, delivered in a casually arch fashion that serves to set off the melodrama just so.
If you’re in need of a reminder of what Cygnets can do, you won’t need to look far: few 2016 albums start as strong as Alone/Together. “A Dark Chapter In Our History” is all speedy bass runs, with singer Logan Turner’s not-quite-faux-British accent bouncing along at pace with the synth sequences that fill out the body of the song. Immediately following it is the sly “Ana & Mia” which could easily pass for a synthed up cover of a goth rock classic and the terrifically theatrical electropop of “I’m Sorry (So Sorry)”, both numbers that expertly walk the tightrope of high drama without tipping over into mawkishness or silly self-importance. Things stay strong through the nu-disco sheen of “She’s Exactly The Kind Of Broken I Need” and the chiming indie-pop tinged “What Are You Waiting For?”, right up to “Icons” a song that achieves a genuine frisson via an uncharacteristically manic vocal take from Turner.
However at fifteen tracks, the album feels a bit long, and includes a few songs that aren’t quite up to the standards set in its unimpeachable opening stretch. Specficially “Rouge” and “Unaffectionate Mistress” feel like lesser versions of the numbers that precede them. They aren’t bad songs but they do feel somewhat strained, like their component elements are working harder to cohere than the effortless sound the band are capable of, a theme that repeats a few times in the record’s back half. Still, every Cygnets track has something to recommend it (“We Don’t Want To Be Your Lovers” is a good arrangement lacking only a hook, “Heathen Girl” is underwritten but has a delightful chorus), and the dip in the middle is easily forgotten when you hit late album highlights like the darkwavey “Chrysalis” and the Pulp-esque showstopping closer “Living in a Coma”.
Being great except when they’re only pretty okay isn’t exactly a crime, although one might wonder whether the incredibly prolific band might simply have made more music than they know what to do with. They did somehow release two equally good albums in 2014, as if they simply couldn’t hold onto one clutch of songs before diving into the next. Alone/Together is worthy of your attention for its high highs, and is a testament to Cygnets knack for wedding drama and technique.
Cygnets have set the bar pretty high for themselves, producing hit after hit, so I think you are making quite a stretch to find something that you felt fell below that, i.e., Rouge and Unaffectionate Mistress. The truth is, many of the songs on this album are brilliant, and I include Rouge. And songs that don’t strike one as an immediate standout (like I’m Sorry (So Sorry) is), tend to do so, after several repeats and after one has been satiated by the “showstopper” hits. So that is to say, the songs other than the “high highs” are still right up there and all the songs on the entire album are basically competing against themselves for first place. The entire album is one of the year’s best.