Fake it until you make it
It seems that Chase Atlantic have positioned themselves to be the “next big thing.” The Aussie trio has been at it since 2014, when they rose from the ashes of the boy band What About Tonight (which was initially formed for the express purpose of auditioning for The X Factor). While a lot of the initial buzz that surrounded these guys originated from websites Tumblr and Tik Tok, they’ve been generating a little bit more attention within the mainstream music sphere; they were signed to Warner Bros. Records in 2017 and were even included in the lineup for the 2018 Warped Tour. They describe their sound as “alternative pop,” which would lead one to believe that their music would bear somewhat of a resemblance to artists like Charlie XCX or maybe even Twenty One Pilots, right? In actuality, their new album PHASES has more in common with The Chainsmokers than it does The Weeknd. Between their harmonies and subject matter, Chase Atlantic’s boy band roots are still very prominent.
This album is largely an amalgamation of pop cliches from the last five years. Every single song is rife with trap hi-hats and twinkling synth plucks; saccharine melodies abound while their vocals are drowning in auto-tune. The more hip-hop oriented songs often adopt the sonic aesthetic that has come to be associated with the SoundCloud rap scene, while the dance-influenced tracks are a little more reminiscent of electropop a la Tove Lo. Their lyrical content seems to be limited to three categories: mental illness, drugs and luxury. This is largely par for the course, as this seems to be the subject matter du jour for most contemporary pop artists. While artists can tackle these subjects in compelling and poignant ways (“I Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd comes to mind), Chase Atlantic seems content to scrape at the surface.
There are a few moments of redemption on this album, one being track eight, “STUCKINMYBRAIN.” As the title implies, the subject matter concerns the state of paranoia and self-consciousness that comes with illnesses like depression and anxiety. The lack of lyrical subtlety works well in this context because this is a subject that needs to be discussed in a frank and straightforward manner. Artists who choose to explore these subjects are giving their audience something relate to, which is incredibly important to those who struggle with feelings of vulnerability and isolation. Regardless of how the music actually sounds, the sentiment itself is something that should always be appreciated.
On the other side of that coin, there are plenty of moments where mental illness feels more like a thematic prop to substantiate some otherwise uninspired subject matter. The following track “EVENTHOUGHIMDEPRESSED” provides a solid example of this: “Only call it a living ’cause I’m still alive / only open up the doors if they’re suicide, yeah / I’m anxious to my core but I’m doing fine / try to keep my distance from the law.” He goes on to lament about how he “fills up the emptiness with diamonds and chains,” and how he “fucking loves it even though I’m depressed.” This sort of juxtaposition between ostentatious and bleak imagery can be effective when explored in more articulate terms or if it’s being framed as a critique of consumer culture, but this just comes off more as romanticization than anything else.
While there are a handful of moments on PHASES which are enjoyable, they aren’t particularly unique or innovative and are too often weighed down by the lyrics. Any listeners who come to this album with the expectation of hearing some alternative pop along the lines of Billie Eilish or AURORA will be disappointed and maybe a little confused, but people who tend to gravitate towards the Top 40 brand of pop music certainly won’t have any issues with it.