Fans of Hustle and Drone’s dreamy debut, Holyland, won’t automatically fall for What an Uproar. Where the former effort found ex-Portugal The Man member Ryan Neighbours stowing tales of woe inside bright, bold synth-pop, the latter forgoes the fun and steps into the darkness. It’s less hands-in-the-air hustle, more late-night Reznor-lite drone.
It wasn’t always going to be this way. When it first came time to craft his sophomore album, Neighbours initially planned to put the finishing touches on some of the tracks he had been piecing together since the release of Holyland. That was until he realized that if he wasn’t the one writing the songs, even he might not want to listen to them.
Taking a good, hard look at himself, Neighbours, with a little help from bandmate Andy Black and producer Sonny DiPerri, realized he was in a dark place, and that his music should reflect and represent, not obscure, that. He scrapped everything and started over. And while there has always seemed to be a cloud over Hustle and Drone—it’s what’s separated them from a thousand other essentially similar-sounding outfits—the band have undergone a pretty radical redesign here.
When the sonic shift works, it really works. The mournful piano of “Stuck Inside of the Rain” couldn’t be any more removed from what Hustle and Drone used to do but is thoroughly affecting; the final fading minute of “Shadow Fly” is flush with fantastic oddness, and the title track goes from eerie cinematic start to twitching, skittering conclusion.
Where it’s less effective, though, What an Uproar can feel derivative and thin. “Stranger” can’t escape mid-tempo funk, and “Fame” is the odd song out, desperate to bloom into a beat-driven banger, but sparse opener “Dark Star” highlights even bigger problems—as good as Neighbours is with a beat and a melody, his voice has never been the strongest, and his lyrics can be dreadfully direct.
Here, with layers of effects stripped away, and the frontman baring his soul without metaphor or intrigue, both weak links are emphasized. No one need ask Hustle and Drone to limit themselves to being ‘just’ a dance band or pretend to have fun when they absolutely are not, but by aiming for unadulterated honesty in their music, they’ve made much of it more one-dimensional.
What an Uproar seems like something its creators had to get out of their system. Whether you need it in yours is a slightly different matter.