You might be familiar with the name Franz Ferdinand from their main hit, “Take Me Out,” a sleek, catchy song with a bouncy guitar line that instantly caught the ear. While the band, which hails from Scotland, has flickered in and out of the mainstream limelight ever since its hit was released, it has come surging back in a strong way with Always Ascending, Franz Ferdinand’s first album since 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.
One notable presence throughout the entire album is the trim production design on display. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to be found here—Always Ascending is traditional dance-rock most of the way through. One notable exception to this tried and true formula for the band is the song “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow,” which, in a way that’s rather fitting, is a slow burn and a much calmer song. Yet, even it slowly builds up to a more frenetic pace, on track with the rest of the album.
The enjoyment of this album will largely depend on one’s affinity for lead singer Alex Kapronos’s rather strained croon. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but it is not altogether unpleasant, and it fits well with most of the songs written. The tunes and tones of many songs on Always Ascending mesh surprisingly well with his hissing tones. This combination lends a unique and alternative sound to the entire album.
Some other standouts include “Glimpse of Love,” a rollicking, sweet ode to a missed relationship, and “Lazy Boy,” which is notable for a wonderfully catchy riff and thought-provoking vocals.
The progression of the songs on the album isn’t immediately noticeable on the first listen. Many of the songs aren’t especially distinguishable from each other. When listening to the album all at once, they often blend together. With a closer listen however, one can identify some more nuanced ideas at play. Even though many of the sounds on display are very similar, the message that the album gives twists and turns at every possible moment into something more complex. One main theme is on display here, though: the struggles of everyday life, and how they can be overcome with a nice blend of positive thinking and electrifying dance-pop.
Audience engagement can and will be highly varied between different listeners. It really all depends on how much one likes the genre. This is an album that is best listened to twice—the first time should simply be an experience where one should let the varied and interesting sounds of the album wash over oneself, and the second time should be to pay attention to some of the messages that the artists are trying to get across.
The main problem that listeners could find in this album is that the slow parts—when they do come along—often drag. The album is at its best when it allows itself to work into a rhythm where it moves frantically from song to song, wrapping up the listener in its whimsical and at times menacing tones. The plodding pace of some of the numbers, especially because many of them are placed in the middle of the album, really only feel like sticky glue that slow down the natural forward movement the record so desperately needs. It certainly doesn’t do very much to prove the album’s name, Always Ascending.
Overall, there are many good things happening on this album. The sound design is on point, the vocals are crisp and innovative, and when it’s doing what it does best—glitzy dance-pop—it shines. The main problems that this album run into can best be described as a personality crisis. The album would be much better served by sticking with a consistent style. Regardless, it still makes for entertaining listening and a good introduction into a world of music that many people may not be aware of.
Featured Image by Domino Recording Company