Canadian electropop trio Dragonette releases their fourth studio album and first in 4 years, in the wake of numerous singles leading up to its release. Despite the band’s internal struggles, remaining intact through frontwoman Martina Sorbara’s separation from the band’s bassist, they lost none of the spark that has provided us with energetic and bubbly singalong choruses for nearly a decade on this album. While the deeper cuts never really match the highest heights of the tracks we’ve already heard, which open the album, and at 13 somewhat similar electropop tracks it can feel a bit overlong, Dragonette is as infectious as ever.
The trio do not stray too far from their tried and true formula that made songs like “Hello” massive hits in their native Canada. The tracks are structured like an EDM song without the dance breakdown, concentrating the pulsating energy of the song throughout rather than in one explosive moment. They are dominated by complex and interlocking melodic synth lines, providing a backdrop for Sorbara’s airy and childlike vocals. At times, the band edges closer to a uniform mainstream pop sound than ever before, but their unique flair remains intact. “Lonely Heart” could easily be an old-school teen pop song from a Disney star, but the engaging island flair of the synths and the reckless abandon with which Sorbara attacks her catchy melody make it something special.
For a band that is so much about the instrumentals, it might surprise that a true highlight of the album is Sorbara’s vocals. She displays a quite impressive range despite the similarity of the instrumentals. Her tone is very unique, and combined with technical skill level makes for an essential asset to every song here. The moment that truly surprised me was the transition from the aforementioned “Lonely Heart”, a Charli XCX-style song full of sass, to beautifully hitting a high A out of nowhere at the start of “Royal Blues”. I also enjoyed the way that essentially 2 main melody lines are employed on a few tracks — the synths keep up a catchy hook of their own throughout the song, and sometimes adapt the main vocal line and bring it back in other places to keep the hook running. “Lost Teenagers” is a great example of this, Sorbara drawing out a “Loooost…” while the synths punch out the melody associated with “teenagers” earlier in the song.
Some individual tracks really shine here. Working with DJs they have been featured on before was a smart idea — their track with Mike Mago, “Outlines” was one of the best of 2014 and their collaboration “Secret Stash” here brings out many of the same elements that made that song so great. The singles “Body 2 Body” and “Let The Night Fall” are still the real highlights, however. Reaching the apex of synthpop bliss, “Night” is more of an all-out attack on the senses whereas “Body” takes the more calming and immersive route, building a world in its ascending synth patterns. These are the kinds of songs which are tailor-made for arenas and festivals, whipping crowds into a frenzy with a two-pronged attack of an in-your-face electronic instrumental and an overwhelmingly catchy chorus to sing at the top of your lungs — I’ve seen it happen effectively on two separate occasions.
As the album extends into its later stages, enduring 13 straight tracks of huge four-on-the-floor beats can get very tiring – this type of music is often ill-suited for album format, and pulling it off well takes a tremendous amount of skill. However, the album certainly could have benefited from some trimming of songs, or even a reordering of the tracklist. The best songs are all at the start, decreasing in quality as the album goes on. The lyricism, while obviously not a huge point of interest in this musical realm, still noticeably falters in places, especially on the ridiculous “High Five”, which lists some tasks both impressive and menial (“You put your pants on”, “You got a job”, “You made a friend”), and countering each with “You deserve a high five”.
Frontwoman Martina Sorbara is an electric presence on the album
As well, after hearing so many similar songs it can feel like some are trying to do a bit too much. A track like “Darth Vader”, which features massive, grinding and industrial dubstep-style noises in its breakdown does not need 2 interlocking lines of Sorbara in her upper range and a falsetto ooh-ooh-ooh melody from the background vocals meant to be passed off as a hook. It all just gets to be much too loud.
All in all, this much analysis of Royal Blues begins to feel a bit silly — this is just feelgood music in its purest form that suffers a bit due to its placement in an album format. In the midst of their struggles, this is a very impressive final product to put out and the veteran group just continues to flex their muscles.
Favourite Tracks: Body 2 Body, Let The Night Fall, Lonely Heart, Save My Neck, Detonate
Least Favourite Track: High Five