The Chain Gang of 1974

Felt

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The fourth full-length album by the Chain Gang of 1974, 2017's Felt is a crisply attenuated effort that finds lead singer/songwriter Kamtin Mohager emerging from his self-imposed goth chrysalis into a charismatic purveyor of anthemic pop. After the release of 2014's Daydream Forever, Mohager took some introspective time away from performing. He co-wrote songs for other artists like Jai Wolf, Dillon Francis, and Luna Shadows before slowly working his way back to his own music. During this period, he befriended the Naked and Famous' Thom Powers, germinating a fruitful creative partnership that became the catalyst for Mohager to finally return to the studio with a gloriously updated creative vision. If past efforts found him exploring an icy melange of keyboard-heavy, '80s-style new wave, electronica, and droney ambient pop, the Powers-produced Felt is a far more clear-eyed, thematically and musically focused album. It's not so much a departure from past Chain Gang of 1974 albums as a distillation of the most potent elements of the band's sound. Under Powers' influence, Mohager purportedly took vocal lessons -- a choice, if true, that pays dividends on a collection of songs that strikes a balance between catchy pop hooks and a hard-won, believable emotionality. Vocally, Mohager has never sounded better and moves from breathy croon to highly resonant belting with ease. Powers also brings a welcome sophistication and artful studio sheen to Mohager's songs, a style that befits the album's overall tone of grand romantic uplift. And uplift is what Mohager does from the start, cinematically drawing you in with the epic opener "Slow." A giant floating spacecraft of a song buoyed by a sinewy bassline like something Simon Gallup would do with the Cure, it rises on shimmery keyboards, hits of guitar sparkle, TV static, and an angelically muscular melody that wallops you with its gorgeous hook. It perfectly sets the mood for what is to come; a series of songs that beautifully transition from effusive Tears for Fears-style synth-rockers like "Wallflowers" and the saxophone-accented "I Still Wonder," to more fluorescently lit, EDM-inflected late-night jammers like the swoony "Looking for Love" and "Forget," which also features vocals from the Naked and Famous' Alisa Xayalith. Mohager and Powers have crafted an exquisitely measured album where the dance elements never outpace the ballads and the pop aesthetic is always weighted with darker rock undertones. As the title implies, Felt is a big, joyous, confident album -- but it's a confidence dusted with pathos. As Mohager sings on "Slow," "I know I'm moving slow, but at least I've got my soul."

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