Fake Laugh’s Kamran Khan focused most of his energy into jangly post-Mac Demarco indie, whilst Tarquin has been deep in the ropy depths of instrumental grime. But after listening to these artists in their own lanes next to this album, it’s fair to say Fake Laugh and Tarquin is a lot more than the sum of its parts. The duo have smartly taken this as an opportunity to do something entirely new that neither could have done alone, and created a melting pot of squelchy, trap-inflected beats amongst waltzing, androgynous sunshine pop. Chuck in doses of neo-psychedelia, dream pop and hyperpop held up by bubbles of insane sound design and a wealth of British electronica and you’ve got a pretty good formula.
The world building here is pretty immaculate; you only need a glance at the artwork for this record’s singles to get a feel for the kinds of icy, alien contortions that make up Tarquin’s production. From the deep house pump of “Money” to the lullaby chimes of “Only Fear” to the chirpy Reichian woodwinds on “Original Sin,” everything has a really firm grasp of its own dreamy universe, perhaps even too firm a grasp at some points.
There’s a lack of tension and release here, and not much danger. You can’t help feeling that the album’s best moments would feel a whole lot more serene if their heads weren’t kept in the clouds the entire time in-between those moments. With a few harsher edges and musical builds, this could be elevated from a ponderous pop curio to a legitimately special album. Fake Laugh’s vocals, although competent, don’t alleviate the problem, often sounding like your generic indie-pop falsetto 101.
There are two major exceptions to these issues, and they’re probably the two strongest tracks on the album, “Ice” which manages to feel like Perfume Genius being remixed by SOPHIE, with key changes in the latter half which are legitimately spine-chilling, and “So Good” which contrasts a gloomy neon instrumental with IDM drums to create a very steamy banger which should not be missed.
Although a step away from the mark, this is hopefully the start of a long and prosperous career for the duo. And If you’re a sucker for those weirder ends of sound design, or a die hard fan of Yeasayer or Wild Beasts, stop reading and stick this one on immediately.