For their third album, London rockers Athlete try to find that balance between bedroom rock and alternative pop. There are a lot of comparisons made of Athlete to Coldplay, but the quartet (Joel Potts – vocals, guitar; Stephen Roberts – drums; Tim Wanstall – keyboards; Carey Willetts – bass) leans more toward New York-based Longwave and more similarly New Orleans-based Mute Math.
Interestingly, the album begins with the instrumental “In Between 2 States” (mp3 here) that should have set a casual, but slightly edgy (at least indie-wise) tone. This tone carries somewhat over to “Hurricane” with lead singer Joel’s soft vocals and Stephen’s simple percussions, and “Airport Disco” with Tim’s eerie keyboards and Carey’s subdued bass. However, the band never does quite capture those brief youthful rebellious first impressions as Neighbourhood progresses.
With “It’s Not Your Fault,” Athlete starts to get mopey (“The dance you made up / To your bedroom every night / Leaves us chasing memories”) and rather dull because of how much is going on during the songs. You’d think there would be something more. Depth, imagination, sudden chants? It’s a stark contrast to the more stripped-down songs of the band’s previous album Tourist.
By the time “Flying Over Bus Stops” rolls around, you ask yourself where all the rock & roll went (“Flying over bus stops and playgrounds / I’m here soaked right to the core / We’ll stay here forever, I’m safe with you”). Luckily the band tries to pick it up with a few uptempo tracks in “Second Hand Stores” and “In The Library,” but those titles alone suggest a teenage state-of-mind rather than a more hardened worldly reality.
Fortunately, the album closes with two the album’s best songs, the raw and bare “Best Not To Think About It” and the unglamorous “This Is What I Sound Like.” Too bad the album’s center wasn’t as good as its beginning or end. I had a hard time trying to figure out where Athlete was headed, but Neighbourhood isn’t so inconsistent that you can’t enjoy it nor so enjoyable that you’d hit the repeat button.
View a homemade behind-the-scenes look at Athlete making Beyond The Neighbourhood here.