We Are Scientists know how to write a chorus. However, what makes Helter Seltzer, their fifth studio LP, quite so exciting is that their pop sensibilities have now been coupled with a synthy sheen. The result? An elevated scale, while channelling enough of the duo’s endearing scuzziness to maintain their recognisable indie-rock sound. This equilibrium, demonstrated effectively by the strong first half of the album, finds gently distorted guitar underscoring new synthy pop hooks, resulting in many of the more immediate tracks sounding massive; indeed, ‘Buckle’, ‘In My Head’ and ‘Too Late’ are a powerful album-opening trinity. Seriously, many of the hooks and melodies (see their tremendous album closer ‘Forgiveness’) simply belong in a live setting.
This keenly-honed pop potency goes hand-in-hand with just how streamlined the album is; just two of the 10 tracks are over four minutes long. This lean songwriting belies the title and the band’s assertion that this is their “messiest” album in ten years. Granted, some of the tonal switches could be smoothed over, such as that between the dreamy ‘Want for Nothing’ and the propulsive ‘Classic Love’, but it feels crude to criticise the band when they achieve so much within such confines. In fact, it is when the album slows down and tends to strain for the more expansive, tentative realms of M83, Chvrches and their synth-pop peers that the album suffers for its ambition. Despite this, the yearning ‘We Need To Have a Word’, which closes the first half, still manages to sound beautiful. Such an adjective might be new for We Are Scientists, but they earn it. Gone is the frenetic distortion of With Love and Squalor (but it does make a resurgence in ‘Headlights’ and the glorious middle eight of ‘Waiting For You’).
“Go be unimpressed – you and all your unfair assumptions”, the band decree in ‘Hold On’. No need: Helter Seltzer is very impressive indeed.