The Presets

September 3, 2012

From the very opening minimal trance beat of Youth in Trouble, it’s clear The Presets are delving into new sonic territory on Pacifica. Having toured Europe extensively seems to have inspired their work quite heavily. Much of the album journeys deep into the heart of the warehouse rave scene of Berlin: it has that essence about it. Pacifica may well be a journey into the unknown for many a listener due to the presence of an inescapable European flavour that drastically sets it apart from their previous releases.

Youth in Trouble must be praised for its disregard of stereotypical dance music conventions that have plagued our ear drums in recent times. The mouth-watering build-up that stirs the song for two-and-a-half minutes before dropping into a grinding minimal beat is done so unbelievably well that the heart skips a beat every time. The constant whirring that ebbs underneath perpetually rises, deceiving the listener in that it never reaches the peak it promises to deliver, but rather drives the song to a monstrous climax. This dark and brooding, yet pumping album opener draws similarity to techno legends Underworld.

The catchier elements of previous releases have been pushed aside on this record to make way for intelligent production and song structure. For long after the release of Apocalypso and Beams, the songs were undoubtedly the most popular dance floor fillers. This was mostly due to their knack for producing smashing songs that started at a frenetic pace and sustained the intensity from start to finish. A different approach has been taken on this record, and instead we get more rigid song structure that allows for an ebb and flow of energy, as well as conveying multiple emotions, most evident on Ghosts and Youth in Trouble.

Although there are many familiar elements present across Pacifica, they are delivered in small doses. Let’s face it, if that’s all you’re holding out for, then you will probably leave disappointed. Push is as close to Presets circa Apocalypso or Beams as you will get. The jumpy synths on Push are driven by those smashingly dance-heavy drum rhythms that purveyed such huge energy on those previous two albums. The atmospheric techno sounds that underlay the track are common, and elevate the songs to sounds of stadium sized proportions.

When heavier lyrical content is attempted in songs like Adults Only, it somewhat misses the mark. With such huge strength in production, when the focus is shifted away from the music to the lyrics, the track feels bleak. It’s only habitual to wait for that punchy dance beat, and it just doesn’t feel right trying to decipher the meaning of a ballad about troubled youth.

Their big influence of 80’s synth-driven pop artists like The Pet Shop Boys and New Order are evident throughout Pacifica, none more so than one of the more catchy tracks Promises. Its funky 80’s disco synths drive the song to huge choruses, much like M83’s Midnight City. Slow burner It’s Cool has a really relaxing mellow feel with piano complementing Julian Hamilton’s thick and soothing vocals, even hitting a gorgeous falsetto at one point.

The album is not something you’re going to hear played in high rotation in the clubs or played on repeat at every party you attend. In shedding their highly catchy pop-tinged dance music for something more sinister and brooding, they are breaking free and experimenting in styles that they clearly enjoy. The drastically different direction taken on the album may gain The Presets some new fans, but it will undoubtedly alienate quite a few fans of their much-loved releases Apocalypso and Beams.