The Swedish post-punk crew Holograms return with a middling sophomore release in Forever, varnishing the energy of last year’s debut with newly-mixed washes of awe and brooding. Where the self-titled Holograms, it seems, hovered somewhere between angst and optimism, the group’s latest sits almost exclusively in a darker, more Gothic space.
This shift toward a deeper introspection is by no means the album’s source of weakness, however. Indeed, the quartet’s skill at replicating the quirks of Bauhaus and, perhaps most of all, Joy Division presents a superficial thrill. Come to think of it, how Scandinavian frontman Andreas Lagerström has come to sing in a curiously Cockney accent the world may never understand. One guess is in the East End of his native Farsta, there’s a community of Thatcher-era teenagers pissed off by a years-long recession. Whatever the case, at the heart of the matter is an issue more basic: There just aren’t any hooks. Or, at least, they’re not keen enough to make an impression—much less an incision.
“Meditations,” for instance, sounds every bit the part. Shouts of “destruction!” are repeated for the chorus and guitarist Anton Spetze’s work is sufficiently hurried and distressed. After the frenzy is through, though, you’d be hard-pressed to recall the melody. “Laughter Breaks the Silence” comes off like the readymade music a band plays while the lead singer introduces its members (“And on keys, everyone, Filip Spetze!”), while on “Ättestupa,” an uneasy bassline dances on broken guitar glass as singer Lagerström screams “I’m so tired!”—to a flourish of ’80s keyboard noodles, no less. Though more memorable than the former cases, as with much of Forever, the effects and affects are never met with the sense of a personal, or at least reinterpreted, vision of the work by Holograms’ forerunners.
In this way, perhaps, the band is like their native Volvo: The design and engineering have passed a rigorous Scandinavian inspection. Mechanically, it’s sound—all variables and road-testing have been considered with blueprint exactness. A robust chassis and the fundamentals are in place. But where’s the sports car danger—the unforgettable lines, the creative spark? It seems, on accounts aural and structural, Forever is too often sound with no soul.