Album Review: Fenech-Soler – ZILLA

By on Wednesday, 1st February 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Fenech-Soler Zilla album coverFor a group who started out in earnest in Northamptonshire over a decade ago, the dropping out of their like-minded peers from the late Noughties, and given what has happened to the music industry in recent years, it’s heartening that Fenech-Soler are still in existence. Last year, the electropop group based in London announced bassist Daniel Soler and drummer Andrew Lindsay had amicably left the group. Continuing on as a duo, Ben and Ross Duffy have confidently written and produced a new album out this week. According to the press release and probably to the disappointment of some of you reading this, ‘ZILLA’ is named after a friend and is in fact not a cutesy homage to a fictional Japanese monster. It’s important to note that the new LP includes four tracks that starred on their September 2016 EP ‘Kaleidoscope’, which might be disappointing to those who already own the previous release.

Fenech-Soler were always the kind of band you’d ask to perform at your party to get bodies bumping. Since their eponymous debut album was released in 2010 and continuing on after 2013’s ‘Rituals’, they’ve enjoyed prominent billing at major festivals around the world, even an invite to play at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Most dance bands would kill for experiences like these, but then again, most dance bands are not creating bangers like ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Magnetic’. Following the departure of two band members, Fenech-Soler could have kept going on the same direction and with the same winning formula, and I’m not sure anyone would have batted an eye. They would have been too busy dancing.

However, Ben and Ross Duffy had other plans for ‘ZILLA’. While they initially demoed songs intended for the album with producer Jacknife Lee in Los Angeles, the brothers ultimately returned to Northamptonshire, where they became truly inspired by old disco and soul records. On the new LP, they mix things up, daring to be experimental in a world where experimentation in pop is widely discouraged. While they have maintained the pop sensibility that has been so important to the Fenech-Soler sound, they’ve added more light and dark to their songs, adding interest and changing the mood.

A measure of foreboding in previously unveiled single ‘Cold Light’ foreshadowed their new path. You can read my thoughts from back in December through here. They also seem to have found their soulful side, probably best exemplified by the vocalisation on almost-instrumental ‘Zilla I’. ‘Be Someone’ begins as reverently as a church hymn, Ben Duffy putting his voice beautifully through its paces alongside a vaguely Oriental, ‘80s-style guitar line. He sings, “leave me to dance all night, there’s one chance left, I’ve been waiting for all my life”, as the song chronicles every artist’s dream, to finally make it in a difficult business. In album closer ‘From Afar’, Ben Duffy favours a staccatoing, almost hip hop vocal line to follow the beat, before returning to the expansive, anthemic reach of his voice as seen on ‘Last Forever’.

Happily, ‘ZILLA’ includes some stellar tracks that fit well with the dance floor bangers already in existence in the Fenech-Soler oeurve. Previous EP title track single ‘Kaleidoscope’ that begins the album on an appropriately colorful note, like a carnival packed into one hell of a track. ‘On Top’ recalls the days of the late Noughties, when the band were in direct competition with the now-defunct Friendly Fires. With crashing synths building towards a crescendo, dropping back down for brief bridges of quieter reflection, ‘Grace’ must be intended for those all arms-in-the-air moments late night in the club. ‘Conversation’ (stream available at the end of this post) follows a similar formula to past hit ‘Demons’, starting with a seemingly unrelenting dance rhythm that soon gives away to Ben Duffy’s considered vocals.

The difference is this time around, on ‘Conversation’ and on many of the tracks on ‘ZILLA’, the brothers Duffy have chosen to let their songs breathe more. This might sound counterintuitive to what electropop is meant to do: get bodies on the dance floor. While they might not have broken the mold on dance-driven pop music on this album, they’ve stretched the mold and themselves, proving themselves entirely capable of going beyond what has worked so successfully for them in the past.

7.5/10

‘ZILLA’, by brothers Ben and Ross Duffy who now comprise Fenech-Soler, will be out this Friday, the 3rd of February, on SO Recordings. Following shows in New York City and Los Angeles, Fenech-Soler head out on a UK tour in late February into early March. To read more of TGTF’s none too shabby archive of articles on the act, including an interview I did with them in Brooklyn in 2014, follow this link.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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