Though hailing from London, Ten Fé recorded “Hit The Light” somewhere in the dark, wintry streets of Berlin. The move across the continent makes sense: their debut album is perhaps the most-suited indie rock album for traveling since The War On Drugs’ “Lost In The Dream”. Like that huge album of 2014, Ten Fé marry a similar blend of mid-tempo Springsteen songcraft and lush orchestral synths.
‘Overflow’ gets the proverbial motor running: as the volume turns up and the music fades in, technicolor synth lines dart around one another. Suddenly, the track snaps into focus with propulsive drums and a chugging bass line which underpin lyrics that mourn the passing of time. While the flawlessly-produced instruments instantly show the album’s power, it is the vocals of the two lead singers Ben Moorhouse and Leo Duncan, who make up Ten Fé, that are the centerpiece of this record. Their soulful transatlantic voices – equal parts Britpop swagger and yearning Americana – bind the songs into a cohesive whole. Whereas the first track revved the engine, second track ‘Turn’ is the band cruising coolly along the highway. Delay-soaked guitars lend the song a funky groove, reminiscent of the poppier moments from Destroyer’s Kaputt. The song has a cocksure, slightly cheesy eighties vibe, something which is shown in the lyrics that deal with the trials of a troublesome lover. I’ll leave you to decide whether “But when that Smirnoff/Has worn off” is brilliant or terrible – I’m leaning towards the latter.
Ten Fé‘s “Hit The Light” is an album to put on in the car, windows down, setting out on a sunny road trip with your best friends.
After Leo just before him, Ben takes the wheel for ‘Elodie’. The driving melody sounds like a lost Springsteen classic, were it not for the burbling synths and Ewan Pearson’s sharp producing skills. Pearson previously worked with M83, and so here again he shows off his ability for making synth-led pop sound suitably anthemic. Here the overarching theme of the album of moving from darkness to light is strikingly apparent: the instrumentation swells and bursts as if a window’s curtains had been thrown open in a darkened room. ‘Twist Your Arm’ opens with squealing guitar bends that almost sound sampled: a melding of electronic and analog in the vein of Primal Scream. The clever wordplay of “twist your arm to hold your hand” makes for a great chorus that would be at home shouted out on a festival stage, and then the song twists itself, seamlessly moving into a gospel-inspired bridge to keep things interesting.
The middle Ten Fé‘s “Hit The Light”, however, begins to sound a bit tired: many songs rely too heavily on the mid-tempo highway soundtrack vibe, and not even the searing guitar solo in the centre of ‘Don’t Forget’ is enough to distract from the feeling that three songs in a row (at over five minutes each) feels like a bit of a slog for a poppy album. The next triple-bill to finish the album picks up ground a little: ‘Make Me Better’ has an anthemic violin line that The Verve would be proud of, and “Burst” takes the Springsteen influence to its most interesting place on the album with its ricocheting guitars. Finally, ‘July Rain’ employs acoustic guitar for the most intimate song on the album – although the rhyming of “under cover” with “love another” does sound a little trite, making the campfire song at the end of the trip seem like the cliché it really is.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/304456529″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
Overall the album has its moments of pop brilliance, but the over-reliance on sounding like other artists and the sheer length of some songs mean that sometimes this road trip involves a lot of staring out of the window at the same scenery.