Review: Bastille’s synth-rock album, ‘All This Bad Blood’
The tale of most indie bands has been a familiar one for many years now: surviving through grueling anonymity until Top 40 radio stations pick up a deserving single. It has been the tried-and-true tale of many well-deserving bands before the rise of the indie genre.
The same story has happened to the genre’s best, including Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, Ellie Goulding and numerous others. The mainstream acceptance of former indie acts has allowed bands like Bastille, a London-based indie band known for its unique blend of synth-rock and disco grooves, to rise out of relative obscurity.
Bastille’s 2013 single “Pompeii,” from their debut LP, “Bad Blood,” is becoming widely heard. Their mixtapes, “Other People’s Heartaches Pt. I” and “Other People’s Heartaches Pt. II,” blend early ’90s songs such as TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Haddaway’s “What is Love” with their own original tracks.
The 25-track album “All This Bad Blood” is composed of the 15-track “Bad Blood” in its entirety along with four tracks from “Other People’s Heartaches Pt. I” and “Other People’s Heartache’s Pt. II.” The album, once promising 25 brand new Bastille tracks, only brings six to the table.
Despite the initial disappointment, “All This Bad Blood” makes up for what it lacks in new quantity with undeniable quality.
The album’s first 12 tracks are entirely from “Bad Blood,” starting with the single “Pompeii.” The song is reminiscent of Imagine Dragons’ signature reliance on heavy-handed percussion and primeval chants. “Things We Lost in the Fire” is a gorgeous track detailing a couple’s journey in recovering from a house fire. It features heart-wrenching, tender lyrics offset by swelling strings. The lyrics are poignant and evoke intimate emotions through a matter-of-fact dictation.
The first new track, “Poet,” is a jolly pop track describing the immortality that Dan Smith, the band’s lead vocalist, has given to a woman by making her the subject of his song. Smith sings over bright finger snaps and buoyant keyboard taps. This track is a modern, head-bobbing breakdown of the weighty powers that Smith possesses.
Bastille is certainly no stranger to subjects like mortality and existentialism. Many songs wrap around the basis of mythological and religious ideals. “Bad Blood” features two songs that deal with the stories of Icarus and Daniel in the lions’ den.
Furthering the album’s recurring theme of mortality, “Haunt (Demo),” sounds far more developed than its “demo” disclaimer suggests. Its dark, layered vocals are reminiscent of a Gregorian chant. Smith’s lyrics are menacing as he sings to someone, assumed to be a former lover.
“The Draw,” one of Bastille’s most stripped-down songs to date, has one of the most infectiously catchy vocal hooks of any of Bastille’s choruses. While the band is known for their dynamic layering of numerous musical components, this song is composed of only a distant-sounding electric guitar, an elementary drumbeat and the patter of soft keys. In spite of its glaring simplicity, it proves to be a powerful, emotionally-laden song. It’s a song that deviates from genres Bastille has explored on their previous albums, but it’s done gorgeously.
Bringing Bastille back to their “Other People’s Heartaches” days is “Skulls,” a song reminiscent of the unique brand of hip-hop that defined much of Bastille’s first two mixtapes. Smith sings about death, decomposition and imminent mortality with deceiving positivity. It’s a testament to the band’s unique ability to disguise morbid subject matter under infectious beats and Smith’s intoxicating vocals.
“All This Bad Blood” is a well-executed anthology that satisfies the listener looking for immense variety and range within one musical act. It touches on existential subject matter with a seasoned hand and contrasting, vibrant instrumentals. Smith’s gorgeous vocal range combined with Bastille’s foothold in more than one genre makes this collection a sparkling accent on an immensely successful year for one of the best up-and-coming indie acts.