Principe Valiente
In This Light
Metropolis Records

When we reviewed Principe Valiente’s 2011 debut (a release concurrent with the founding of this outlet) we noted the variety of approaches to the genre on that record as a positive. In the intervening years, that aspect of their approach has actually become something of an issue; while their material is never dire or unpleasant, the Swedish post-punk act have never settled into anything long enough for us to get a bead on them creatively. Sometimes bright and danceable, sometimes dour and ambient, sometimes minimal, and sometimes outsized, they’ve rarely ever made music that was identifiably theirs without needing to check who was playing.

New album In This Light does address that somewhat, taking the heavy, shoegaze atmosphere they’ve invoked to some degree on each of their records, and really making it the element that unifies these songs. There’s some good and bad to that approach in theory, but it doesn’t payoff much in practice; you do get some tracks which benefit from it in terms of adding to their weight and dimensionality, but several more that are too slight to hold up to the layers of pads, reverb and graven vocals from singer Fernando Honorato.

The best songs are the ones that put some oomph behind the rhythm and melody, justifying the size of their presentation. “Silent Dreamer” uses pleasingly lush synth strings to sell its mid-tempo opening before going into a big gallop for its latter half, setting up some soaring choruses, during which Honorato really pushes his voice through the waves of grandiose sound. Single “Something New” shows off some solid pop instincts, loading its three minutes with fun basswork, an emotional refrain and a couple of easily graspable guitar hooks, with all the reverb and electronics as added flavour.

Sadly there’s a dearth of songs that work as well as those examples. While distinctive, there’s a turgid lifelessness in a ballad like “Self Control”, which despite some of the record’s clearest vocals just has no energy behind it, tied down by its lumbering pace and production excesses until it just rolls to a stop. It’s still a sight better than opener “Your Only Enemy”, which obviously wants to be a big statement of intent but instead feels like production in search of a song, like if you took “Plainsong” and sucked everything affecting or memorable out of it. It’s not just the slower jams that suffer, as the uptempo “Facing the Truth” is dragged through so much sonic mud that everything other than its reverbed snares becomes lost in the mix, with neither Horonato’s voice nor its guitars able to get anything resembling a melody across.

It’s probably worth noting that for this album Principe Valiente are a duo, with the other remaining member of the original quartet being guitarist Jimmy Ottosson. You can speculate if that removed some creative voices from the room that might have tamped down some of bigger production moves, but really, the material is just kind of dull and there’s no real way around that. It’s hard to invest much thought in In This Light simply because it’s largely too sluggish and washy to want to spend much time with anything but its best songs.

Buy it.