Color War - It Could Only Be This Way - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Color War - It Could Only Be This Way

by David Bruggink Rating:8 Release Date:2014-03-04
My hopes for Color War weren't high. Everything about them, from the pretentious photography and minimal graphic design to the boy-girl synth-duo setup, seemed to say that their debut would be a derivative affair, retreading areas already well-covered by Sally Shapiro or The Knife. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that, though It Could Only Be This Way might not break new ground, it does announce the arrival of a band which uses the synth-pop formula to devastating effect.
Minimal and ghostly, as if recorded in a disused hangar, the album's electronic soundscapes are the work of one Billy J, while vocalist Lindsay Mound provides the human presence, occasionally channeling a smokier Stevie Nicks or a less acrobatic Florence Welch. Synthesizers create the backbone of each track, ranging from monochrome, austere arpeggios ('Shapeshifting', 'SOS') to opalescent pads ('I Like It This Way') and lush, organ-like drones ('U Saved My Life', 'Kaaterskill Falls'). 
Beauty emerges in the melodic details which begin to peek out from skeletal song foundations. The reverb-soaked snare of 'Hallways' brings to mind the iconic introduction to 'Just Like Honey', while Billy J's delayed synth hangs above like a cloud of incessant pinpricks. Lindsay's sultry and atmospheric vocals add epic weight to lyrics which focus largely on the mundane: "Of course I walk up your street/ and I always pass your house /Of course I kept my keys."
A little past the halfway mark, just I'm beginning to think of a criticism about the lack of originality in the sounds, I realize that the song has blossomed into something truly beautiful. "If we met in the hallway," she sings, "I would take you back, babe, if you would take me back", and what initially seemed to be a standard synth-pop song, albeit one with an above average concentration on hallways, is actually one of the best synthesizer ballads of lost love of the recent past. 
Color War's gift is using a style we're well familiar with to transform the everyday into the profound, and that applies to their approach to sounds as well as words. Though there are several short, more experimental tracks which function as palate cleansers between pop anthems ('Twin Spires,' 'The Infinity Broadcast'), the album adheres to melodies and song structures that are ultimately more human than those of something like Silent Shout, even if they can be quite melancholy at times. 
That said, Color War are well aware of the potential to be explored in the apparent contrast between the chilly sheen of Billy's techno and Lindsay's soulful singing style. One of the album's best tracks, 'Shapeshifting,' sees Billy directing the track's momentum via 4/4 kick and echoing 303 as Lindsay's voice conforms to the otherworldliness of his spectral drones. 
If you're put off by Color War's hipster aura, I urge you to give It Could Only Be This Way a chance. Not only is it an impressive debut, it proves that there's still hope for the future of synth-pop.

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