80s new wave sounds from artists like The Cure, Peter Gabriel, and Depeche Mode were always upbeat — even when they were depressed — atmospheric and romantically inspired. And those great honest guitar-driven rock anthem bands from the 80s like U2, The Police, and Simple Minds were the same but different. Two sides of the same musical coin. But it was all music that made you feel good.
Test Your Reflex is heavily inspired by the sounds of bands like The Cure and Peter Gabriel but showing all the stadium talents of U2 and The Police. Their sound is new wave all grown-up; they are The Cure on U2, The Police if they’d stayed together, Joy Division if they still had their joy. And I love it.
Test Your Reflex’s debut album, The Burning Hour is woven with richly layered sound, their lyrical work is amazing – particularly for a group so young, ranging in age from 19 to 21 – and frontman Ryan Levine’s vocals could make a stadium full of teenage girls scream in near orgasmic ecstasy. They have chosen every song on the album to perfectly compliment each other and in doing so have managed to create a mature, creamy smooth sound.
The tracks on The Burning Hour range from hooky keyboard driven pop jangles to plush, honeyed guitar driven anthems. But the album begins with a track that is both guitar driven and hooky keyboard pop. It’s a track that could be the illegitimate child of Robert Smith and Bono – disgusting as that image is it, the sound works very well. “I’m Not Sorry” is a beautifully worked tune filled with all the things that make this album special.
On the bubbly, jangly synth-pop side of things The Burning Hour has “Thinking of You”, “I Am Alive” and “I Know You’re Lonely” this last one sounding like it could be an ode to Flock Of Seagulls. All of these are beautifully constructed pop melodies with brilliant piano/keyboard and Levine’s eloquently written lyrics and lustrous burnished copper vocals.
On the stadium guitar rock side Test Your Reflex offers up “Pieces Of The Sun”, “New Year” and “I’m Not Sorry” delivering anthemic guitar driven tunes. For all that these tracks differ from the more poppy tunes they have that much in common, never feeling out of place or awkward in any way. Just bigger, still with those catchy hooks, serene mixes and sensuous, velvety vocals.
There is one other stand-out track that must be mentioned. “Painted Red” is as perfect an ending to this breathtaking album as “I’m Not Sorry” is a beginning. “Painted Red” is a softer, more sexual Test Your Reflex. The lyrics are effortlessly heartbreaking, Levine’s vocals are soothingly passionate and the exhilarating instrumentation consummately woven together to create a work of musical perfection. “Painted Red” is dripping with carnality and bitterness in equal amounts.
With The Burning Hour Test Your Reflex have shown they are not a band to be dismissed as “pop boy band”. They are energetic, exciting, truly talented musicians and song-writers who are not to be trifled with. I look forward to seeing, in years to come, what this impressive group can do.