Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Presets release groundbreaking new album


Electronic music duo The Presets is back with another groundbreaking album.

Hailing from Australia, an island once used by the British Empire to hold thousands of prisoners, the members of The Presets are anything but prisoners to the status quo of modern electronic dance music.  That original brand of creativity is evident on the group’s new full-length LP, “Pacifica.”

While many of the artists at the forefront of the current club scene focus on dazzling audiences with instrumental house beats, The Presets is not afraid to shake things up.  The group’s regular use of vocals and live drums are just a few examples of ways The Presets is staying ahead of the curve.

Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes – the only regular contributors to the project – have covered a broad spectrum of sounds since the release of their “Blow Up” EP in 2003.  The 2007 release “Apocalypso” boasted a seamless fusion of genres like house and electroclash, ravaging dance floors with hard beats and heavy hooks.

Staying true to the tradition of unorthodoxy, The Presets’ “Pacifica” finds new ways to deliver dance beats buried in epic soundscapes.

The first single and album-opener, “Youth in Trouble,” has a minimalist feel.  The song slowly builds tension over a repeating synth line, reluctant to fill the empty space with any more than drum variations and a futuristic sound effect that gives the impression of an accelerating starship.

The next single, “Ghosts,” follows immediately after the first.  If “Youth in Trouble” is an ascent through Earth’s atmosphere, “Ghosts” is the moment where listeners find themselves free-floating in space.

“Ghosts” immediately creates a heavenly atmosphere, using strings and an echoing vocal chorus.  While surprisingly reminiscent of recent Coldplay releases, The Presets maintain its identity through sampling and a fast-paced dance snare.

The greatest asset to “Ghosts”, however, has nothing to do with the instruments or programming.  The most notable contribution to the track is Hamilton’s lyrics.  Dwelling on the thin line between dramatic and melancholy, Hamilton’s words are pure poetry – a rare find in the world of dance music, much like The Presets itself.

The next song on the record, “Promises,” curves a little closer to the mainstream.  With an upbeat chorus and catchy melodic hook, this track will likely earn The Presets a spot on upcoming playlists at fashion retailers like American Eagle and Express.

“Fall” employs similar elements of pop, and seems equally eligible for commercial use.  Billowing synth layers engulf Hamilton’s chilling falsetto, creating a sharp hook not easily forgotten.  If the duo considers releasing another single from this record, “Fall” seems a likely candidate.

The album makes a full 180-degree turn, however, with “Push.”  Here The Presets break from all standard convention, delving into a very complex – albeit still danceable – can of electronic worms.

A repetitively bouncy synth part takes “Push” back and forth, up and down.  Hamilton’s vocals are cold, often made outright robotic thanks to sampling techniques.  It is one of the moments in which The Presets draw heavily off its electroclash roots.

“Push” could find its niche in a club, but is not likely to see the light of day on the FM airwaves this fall.

Some tracks on the record, though, are anything but club worthy.

The second half of “Pacifica” is less concerned with building dance tracks, instead focusing on other aspects of The Presets’ artistry.

“It’s Cool” is largely piano driven, suspending the dance beats that fuel the bulk of “Pacifica.”  Instead of synthesizers taking center stage, the focus shifts largely to Hamilton’s soft, sentimental lyrics.  Tender piano chords and heartless bass notes form a flawless partnership with Hamilton’s aural portrait of raw emotion.

“A.O.,” while initially employing a soft-piano feel similar to that of “It’s Cool,” takes a different route – one considerably more avant-garde.  The composition steadily builds to a screaming cacophony of droning sound clips.  Strange vocal effects mingle with a furious, insect-like buzzing noise.  A blipping laser gun fires rapidly in the distance.  The result is ominous, and extremely powerful.

The last track on the album, “Fail Epic,” is another naked exhibition of Hamilton’s heart and soul.  Fueled only by soft, airy synthesizers, it locks “Pacifica” firmly in place as the most emotional – and perhaps most ambitious – Presets record to date.

Overall, “Pacifica” is a very impressive release.  It brings a lot to the table for those interested in going beyond the common standards of contemporary music.  Far from another collection of two-dimensional club beats, “Pacifica” is a work of art.

Chris Trubac can be reached at [email protected].

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