Review: GOLD – Why Aren’t You Laughing?
To lmao or not to lmao?
For the uninitiated, GOLD‘s last record, Optimist, was among those that heralded the coming of Loud Guitar Goth, mixing elements post-punk and post-rock (or perhaps post-metal) in the form of often simplistic song structures on top of which they layered thick, twisting constructs with the help of no less than three guitars. The “goth” component came – and still comes – largely from singer Milena Eva, whose smokey-dark voice would alternately envelop you like a sensuous carress or lash like a whip. Dialing back the straightforward rock component of 2015’s No Image allowed them to explore numerous new avenues which, while less heavy, were no less dark, and opened up a wider emotional range. Where have things gone from there? To put it shortly, Why Aren’t You Laughing? is still a decent album – if taken on its own. In direct comparison with Optimist, however, I see a number of shortcomings.
Overall, the sound seems to have taken another step “down”, so to say. If Optimist dialed down the loudness and insistency, Why Aren’t You Laughing? further dials down almost everything that is left. Gone, for the most part, are the clanging guitars that made songs like “I Do My Own Stunts” exciting. Gone, too, are the ominously thundering drums that gave songs like “Summer Thunder” a strong backbone for the rest of the band to work off of. Or perhaps “gone” is too strong of a word; “subdued” might be more apt. Opener “He Is Not,” for example, comes right out of the gate boasting both elements, but the mix of the record makes it so that I have a hard time feeling swept up by them. The same is true for the trifecta of songs in the middle of the album, starting with “Wide-Eyed.” They come closest to the GOLD formula and seem to have their vital parts intact, making them a highlight in my opinion, and yet, something is missing. Something fails to connect. This is pretty limp criticism, but I can’t quite put it in more useful terms. It’s a little like the sound of the band now mirrors their promo photos, in which Milena is often the focus while the rest of the band is somehow obscured. Likewise, she is the element that rings most clearly throughout the album, to the detriment of the rest of the music, which kinda does its thing in the background without ever dealing any successful punches.
Another example of this is “Taken By Storm,” which bursts into one of the heaviest moments on the album after its calm intro. What should be an emotional highlight of the song and perhaps the whole album, however, comes off oddly tired instead. The song later ramps up further to a crescendo that should sound overwhelming, but somehow only comes marginally closer to being effectual. The whole affair is memorable solely because the band has probably never sounded more intense, not because it evokes much feeling.
Alright, so Milena front and center then – I don’t have a problem with that. She has the range and charisma to pull it off, and for large parts, she does so admirably. However, when she leaves the pleasantly warm waters of her crooning and somewhat detached style, things quickly go awry. Raising her voice or switching to a higher register doesn’t really seem to suit her. It doesn’t help that the choruses, for which she does this frequently, only consist of the song’s often long-ish title repeated two to four times. Incidentally, songs two to four illustrate this problem very well. I find myself impatient for her to get to the last word of the chorus. Repetition is a core element in GOLD’s sound, but I don’t think it’s ever been applied to vocal lines as much as it is on this album, and it becomes downright grating at times.
Despite all the negatives I listed here, I can’t claim I found the album thoroughly unenjoyable; as said initially, most of the grievances arise only in comparison with its predecessor. Both albums are growers, and while this one has only grown on me enough to narrowly land it on the better side of “meh,” I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should neglect it, regardless of how you felt about Optimist.