Normandie – ‘Dopamine’

By Katherine Allvey

Normandie love a concept to draw their audience in, and their albums together. 2021’s ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ was a musical exorcism surrounding the legacy of a religious upbringing, and their latest offering, ‘Dopamine’ takes on a vision of the chemical future. “The whole album is about the chase for different highs and natural chemicals: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, adrenaline…” says frontman Philip Strand, but don’t expect the kind of record that lends itself to raves in warehouses or any other cliched experiences with substances. They’re focusing on the euphoria that comes with the richness of life, intermingling their views on technology with a genuinely exciting precursor to their upcoming headline tour.

“I don’t think they’re ready, I’m about to let it out,” Strand proudly sings on ‘Overdrive’ to open ‘Dopamine’, and that statement of intent carries through the whole album. They’ve got gigabytes of emotion inside them and we’re just along for the ride when it’s released in a tidal wave of riff-heavy bangers. The whole record is incredibly slick, a smoothly rushing soundtrack to a night out and moments of release. Thankfully, they haven’t lost themselves amid the pop samples; Normandie still have the positive emotional vigour that we’ve come to associate with the Swedes. It’s the melding of man and machine, human emotion with electro overlay, alt with uplifts of chemical passion that elevate Normandie’s output above that of similar bands.

There’s a definite stretching of their musical muscles throughout ‘Dopamine’, a clear willingness to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. Barely wrapping their despair in sweetness, they twist sadness into the floating melody of ‘Flowers For The Grave’. Sure, it’s supposed to be about the transient nature of relationships, but it’s also a far more nuanced song than we’ve heard from Normandie in a while. Even the slightest of close listens reveals that the band are trying to add more consideration into their lyrics and a greater emotional manipulation into their riffs. Their collaborators also reveal that they’re stepping up: ‘Hourglass’ features Bury Tomorrow’s Dani Winter-Bates in a growling cameo, only making the wistful backing and elastic baselines more smooth in comparison.

Ballad ‘Ritual’ is Normandie’s ’S&M’ moment, with the Stockholm Symphony Orchestra ensuring that the romance doesn’t become too saccharine. The trio are setting their sights beyond the comfortable niche they’ve established for themselves and this album is the precursor to their next level, be it more raw nightclub nihilism in the style of ‘Colourblind’ or ‘Glue’s’ thoughtful Thirty Seconds To Mars-style regret. They’ve always sat in the indescribable junction between so many subgenres, existing in a liminal space that needs a clarification when describing their music, and it seems like they are moving toward adding ‘pop’ to their identification.

That said, the signs that Normandie were going to make a more pop record with a greater reliance on samples and effects was on the cards for a while, despite the fact that this is the album which explicitly addresses technology. The thrasher edges to their sound that we heard on ‘White Flag’ back in 2018 have been smoothed out, and if you liked their more orthodox emo energy pre-pandemic then ‘Dopamine’ might seem a little too polished. To quote Strand in a recent interview, “The future is here. None of us thought it was coming, but here we are…now”, and Normandie are moving beyond their established sound into the unknown.

The future might be a nightmarish place filled with chemical dependence and screen addiction, but it also seems like a place where the songs are multi-faceted and there’s enough thrashing and thrilling riffs to keep us optimistic for more to come. 

KATE ALLVEY

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