Icon For Hire – ‘Amorphous’

By Ian Kenworthy

An album’s title is important – it should hint at the contents, it should pique your curiosity, it should make a statement. Icon For Hire chose ‘Amorphous’ for their new album, a word that sounds futuristic, but according to the Oxford English dictionary means either shapeless or ill-organised. One listen through this record and you’ll appreciate that this choice could not be more fitting.

Icon For Hire is a duo made up of vocalist Ariel Bloomer and guitarist Shawn Jump. Their 2011 debut ‘Scripted’ had a lot in common with Flyleaf and earned them a broad fanbase, something that helped when they left their original record label, giving them the backing they needed to crowd-fund their 2016 album ‘You Can’t Kill Us’ and this, their fourth album, but we’ll come back to that.

While their early music had a big chunky guitar sound with a modern edge, favoured by bands like Papa Roach, as time moved on they have combined this with electro-pop and leant more and more heavily upon synths and artificial sounds. ‘Amorphous’ pushes the electronic sound further still, so that every song feels ambitious and arena-sized, even the interludes – it makes for a bold record and there is a lot to enjoy here. Songs like ‘Last One Standing’ and ‘Curse Or Cure’ have huge choruses where others such as ‘Waste My Hate’ push hard on the pop stylings only to burst out into a fuller band sound. Both of these sonic approaches are lot of fun, propelling the album forward, but elsewhere it’s not nearly so clear cut.

At the heart of every song is a domineering performance from Ariel Bloomer. Whether she’s singing or rapping, she’s never anything other than arresting, especially on ‘Curse or Cure’. While this track is clearly a stand out, the rest of the album is peppered with little inflections that really hook you in. The squeaky pop-punk singing we’ve grown used to has been replaced by a tougher, more aggressive tone. This is especially true when she is rapping on ‘Panic Attacks’ and ‘Impossible & Obstacles’, but even on the slower songs like ‘Thirteen’ she sounds confident and commanding. Lyrically, Icon For Hire revisit themes from previous albums, but also further explore Bloomer’s mental health with turns like “I’m not a diagnosis” or the repeating refrain of “fix myself”, which give them greater impact and relatability.

After having such success with their crowdfunding, the band opted to collaborate with Romesh Dodangoda, the award-winning producer best known for his work on Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Amo’ and he gives ‘Amorphous’ a similarly modern sound. In fact, it sounds great. If you’re going to explore what electro-pop can do, you might as well work with one of the most respected producers in the business, and compared their previous albums the difference is stark. ‘Amorphous’ simply sounds so much better.

Powerful electronics are blended with heavy guitar sounds, and every moment a presents a new idea makes itself known. As you might expect, however, this comes at a cost and the songs often have so much going on they feel bloated and exhausting. Flourishes, pips, squeals and whooshes straight-up define songs like ‘Seeds’ but they are scattered around most of the tracks here. If dubstep revival isn’t a thing, this album certainly wants it to be.

Where the album falls down is its restlessness as each song is fluid and shifts through its runtime. This works well on the big singles as they have a gigantic chorus to pin them together but others, like ‘Seeds’ get lost amongst big blaring synths and ‘Waste My Hate’ falls into a similar trap. A rap-led song, it weaves in and out of different styles and sections, hyperactive one moment and lame the next. With so much going on – often too much – it never quite manages to gel and the problem is exacerbated by the production – it’s difficult to keep up with what’s happening when all the subtleties are strangled by an electronic goose-like honking. In many ways these songs feel like small identity crises, not knowing what to be, a fact that’s hidden wihin a bombastic in-your-face approach. This isn’t always a problem and there’s a lot to like here, but more often than not the songs never reach their potential.

Of all the tracks, ‘Enemies’, with its slow stuttering drum sound, is perhaps its weakest. Unable to settle, it always threatens a huge chorus but swerves away just as you expect it to burst into life. While not every song needs a big chorus, in the context of this kind of album, coupled with the song’s uncomfortable opening, it is crying out for one.  Sure, it subverts your expectations but it’s a set-up without a satisfying pay-off. It’s not a problem unique to this song either, and happens repeatedly throughout the album, making you wonder if they’ve forgotten how to write something clear-cut and satisfying, especially as it becomes tiresome before the album’s climax.

If you’re looking for an album crammed with easily digestible bangers, this isn’t it. There is much to enjoy about ‘Amorphous’ but like a child at the Pick ‘N’ Mix it gets too greedy and ends up feeling overstuffed and sickly. While the massive production job gives the electro-pop sound a huge boost it also steamrollers the subtlety and enhances the songs’ weaknesses. The band should be commended for their ambition, but the album falls short of the mark.

IAN KENWORTHY

 

 

Three more album reviews for you

Architects - 'For Those That Wish To Exist'

Carpool Tunnel - 'Bloom'

Sydney Sprague - 'maybe i will see you at the end of the world'