Abandoned Pools Has Some Sublime Currency

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I think it’s silly to suggest that a piece of music or a movie can only be understood by a certain demographic or group. But sometimes I wonder if the music of Abandoned Pools, Tommy Walter’s long-running project, means as much to people as it does to Generation Y. When MTV ran 2001’s teen drama parody Clone High, they chose Abandoned Pools to sing the Liam Lynch-penned theme song, and they used music from his first album, 2001’s Humanistic, for its soundtrack. They did this because Abandoned Pools was the sound of teenage angst in the early 2000s. It was that period of uncertainty, anxiety and awkwardness, distilled in musical form.

It’s now the tenth anniversary of Abandoned Pools’ debut Humanistic, and Walter hasn’t slowed down a bit. With Sublime Currency, he’s expanded his sound, with an album that feels genuinely new.

That’s a pretty big deal. 2005’s extraordinary Armed To The Teeth sometimes felt like Humanistic 2—no small achievement—but Currency avoids this, preferring to update the sound, bringing in more idiosyncrasies, voxed voices and synthetic noises.

Walter’s usual obsessions are here, of course—identity, anxiety, romance, but they’re less sophomoric this time. Walter’s protagonists have always been superficial and intensely anxious, but that’s always made sense—it’s the music of teenage angst, after all. They were always ready to go another round and blow the monster down—and in that universe, the catch-all iconoclasm, the undiscerning hatred of churches and systems fit the scene. In Currency, though, Walter’s characters have grown up a little. They get existential, focusing on their emptiness and loneliness (of course, after the despair and anger of Armed To The Teeth, it makes sense that no one hangs around them any more). Currency gets introspective. Finally, the singer says in “In Silence”, he can be quiet now.

But it’s not all navel-gazing. There’s energy in spades, from the dance rhythm of “Hype Is The Enemy” to the alt-pop of the title track, to the syncopated bass of “Unrehearsed”, which almost threatens to turn into new wave. “Hype Is The Energy” is shimmering, much more danceable than anything on Humanistic, proof that Currency isn’t just a time machine back to 2001, the way Killers sometimes felt like. The title track, and the first single, is similarly great. The whole of the album runs the gamut of emotion, from triumph to heartbreak.

And Walter knows how to do heartbreak. While there’s no tearjerker in Abandoned Pools’ catalogue that hits harder than Armed To The Teeth’s “Maybe Then Someday”, but “Autopilot”, with its intense melancholy and loneliness, comes close. Ditto “In Silence”, which is the closest that Currency comes to sounding like Killers.

Meanwhile, Walters has never gone as hard as he does on the dark, churning “9 Billion”, all discordant strings, hammering guitars, and angry vocals.

All of this makes Currency fit an interesting place in the Abandoned Pools mythos. When Armed To The Teeth came out, it was this monumental thing, the ur-Abandoned Pools album, winnowing down the sound and themes of Humanistic to an unusually pure form. Sublime Currency isn’t nearly as pure, but it feels like a next step, an expansion into a new, different place. For newcomers, it’s an album full of life, feeling and melody. For fans, though, Currency plays like a love letter.

That’s because Currency isn’t just a worthy addition to Abandoned Pools’ discography; it’s proof that Walters always had, and still has, the magic touch. More importantly, it feels like a graduation, a movement into adulthood. We’ve all grown up now and left high-school behind. How amazing is it that Abandoned Pools has grown up with us? The music is still ours.

Sublime Currency goes on sale on August 28th.

 

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