VOLCANO by Temples
Genre: Psychedelic Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Oh the Saviour,” “In My Pocket”
Self-producing your second album is a bold but ultimately foolish move. It’s liberating and allows for almost limitless creative freedom, but there is a huge difference between a musician who can play music and a producer who can make music. An experienced producer is especially important in psychedelic music, since it can so easily turn into a bad drug trip where you can’t remember anything about it afterwards other than its vague surreality. With performances that aren’t impressive to begin with, good production would have been the only safety net of VOLCANO, but it only exacerbates the flaws of this homogenous and bland excuse for pop.
Much like Tame Impala’s recent work, the greatest change Temples made from their 2014 debut, SUN STRUCTURES, was a transition from psychedelic rock to psychedelic pop. In practice, it means that the instrumental hierarchy has been reversed; on SUN STRUCTURES, the jangly guitars were often the most prominent element, but VOLCANO pushes them to the background in favor of synthesizers. Such a move was not for the better; the best moments are when the guitars are freed from their distant corner of the mix and allowed to take center stage. Neither instrument is especially lively and both slip into abrasive tones seemingly on whim, but as a whole, the guitars are far more colorful and fun and they match more with James Bagshew’s fey, awestruck vocals.
The term “pop music” says little about your music other than that its main goal is to do nothing more than get stuck in your head. In order to do so, you need to have a lot more personality and stage presence than Bagshew. He sounds like he’s just read the lyric sheet one minute before recording and doesn’t fully comprehend them, compensating his confusion by trying to sound super-impressed by his own words. Angsty lyrics about uncertain futures and identity confusion delivered with such an artificially refined and classy tone feels like a cheap attempt at being shocking or ironic, like using a children’s cartoon in the context of a dirty or vulgar joke.
When the album does start to develop any form of personality, it does so by blatantly ripping off its influences. Tame Impala is an obvious one, though perhaps inevitable given that they are the biggest psychedelic band out right now. The shadow of The Beatles looms over the record, as does MGMT’s. Every album is going to remind you of its peers in one way or another, but VOLCANO is so derivative it becomes a distraction from an already deeply unengaging experience.
Even with a frontman with the emotional expression of a blank face, VOLCANO could still be enjoyable as a series of melodic synth leads and tight bass work, but the production sabotages any chance of that happening. The drums suffer the most here, as their body and weight are sucked out on multiple occasions, especially “Celebration,” where what could be a dramatic, stomping beat instead hits with the impact of a pebble. All of the rhythm section is buried under layers of synth that give the impression of being surreal but aren’t actually surreal, and the vocals are moved up and down in the mix with no emotion or lyrical weight to match them. Songs like “All Join In” and “I Wanna Be Your Mirror” have a decent swing and tempo to them, but they will then descend into a slow dirge with no prominent melody to make up for Bagshew’s attempts at being dramatic.
Psychedelic music needs to transport its listener somewhere, but VOLCANO forgets to actually engage its listener with something that doesn’t remind it of so many other things. Weak, inconsistent synths take over the mix and lack the melody to do so enjoyably, while the lead singer is such a poor actor that I never believe his words come from a place of experience or passion. VOLCANO is a massive disappointment as a pop record, as a psychedelic experience, and as a follow-up to a promising debut.
VERDICT: DO NOT RECOMMEND