Honor Roll: IV of Spades’ debut album is finally here, but does it deliver?

Honor Roll: IV of Spades’ debut album is finally here, but does it deliver?

On ‘CLAPCLAPCLAP!’ the funk-rock group is faced with the challenge of justifying whether all that exposure was fruitful.

CLAPCLAPCLAP!, the 15-second opener to IV of Spades’ album of the same name, has already spawned a string of covers on Twitter. This one recreates the sparse curtain-raiser by flicking a light switch on and off. This one supplements the song with interpretative dance. Here’s one with a dog in sunglasses. And then there’s the obligatory ukulele rendition.

 

“CLAPCLAPCLAP!” feels like an assertion of stability, the formalization of a fast, turbulent rise.

 

This is IV of Spades’ first record, which is impressive considering the engagement of their fully-mobilized following. It’s also strange, given that the group’s come-up has already played out in the public eye like a condensed saga. In the past two years, they’ve gone viral with a series of lush, polished music videos, established themselves as big-draw headliners in the gig circuit, shocked the internet by parting ways with their lead singer, and watched from the sidelines as that singer embarked on a successful solo career. They’ve emerged from it all more or less intact, with bassist Zild now de facto frontman. “CLAPCLAPCLAP!,” more than anything, feels like an assertion of stability, the formalization of a fast, turbulent rise.

The manifesto starts off strongly enough. Sweet Shadow is a jubilant breeze of arena-rock. Bata, Dahan Dahan! is an ode to childhood lost, and perhaps one of the most fully-realized songs on the album. Blaster, Badjao, and Zild still sport platform heels and technicolor prints, but on CLAPCLAPCLAP!, they trade in the disco-inflected shimmer of Hey Barbara for a sound that vaguely recalls late-2000s pop rock. There are shades of Panic! At The Disco here, whom they opened for last October. Come Inside Of My Heart, one of the likelier songs to outlive the album cycle, sounds like a lost bonus track from Maroon 5’s “Hands All Over” era.

Everything on “CLAPCLAPCLAP!” pulsates with earnest synths and guitars that know precisely when to disrupt a rhythm. There are strains of dream pop, plucky drum riffs, and a lot of punchy, lustrous hooks. It’s an album that drips with style.

 

The album’s downfall, then, lies in the discrepancy between the maturity of its sound and the laziness of its songwriting.

 

The problem with IV of Spades, however, was never a lack of style. Panache is a quality that can always be expected from a band that’s known just as much for its aesthetic as its music. The production on “CLAPCLAPCLAP!” is consistently great, even if it’s derivative. The album’s downfall, then, lies in the discrepancy between the maturity of its sound and the laziness of its songwriting.

My Juliana, for instance, is a glossy, vaporwave-tinged gem that suffers from lines like “Sitting on the corner / Waiting to discover / If your eyes would see my broken heart.” Captivated builds a strong melody upon the sound of a ticking clock. In contrast, its narrative is achingly generic, a string of toothless platitudes: “Never wanna be separated / I’m captivated / Everyone says you’re complicated / Every day you’re my most awaited.” You can hear them going through a rhyming dictionary.

It’s pretty evident from the grandiose production and teenage swagger that IV of Spades is eager to please the listening public, even though its three members would rather hide that eagerness behind placid gazes. Whether or not they’d admit it, the stakes are high on this album. Perhaps it’s unfair that so much is expected of them on their debut, but that’s just a  natural consequence of having already received such overblown exposure in the months leading up to its release.

If the tweets indicate anything, it’s that “CLAPCLAPCLAP!” will thrive on the zeal of its sizable fanbase. But there’s nothing here which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that IV of Spades has anything hiding beneath its shiny exterior. The album lacks any overarching themes, any creative motivation beyond being as flashy as possible. It’s big sound in need of a big idea.

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