Gold on Gold

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At first blush, Clubfeet seem like yet another of the countless faceless bands plying the intersection of rock, pop, dance, and electronic music in the early 2010s, but this Capetown-via-Melbourne trio is slightly more of a puzzle than its "sounds like" list suggests. For one thing, despite the band's floor-friendly moniker and appearance on the dance-oriented Plant label -- and despite its sleek, synthy sheen and plethora of electronic beats -- Gold on Gold feels too restrained and contemplative to really come off as a dance album. You could probably dance to most of these tracks if you had to, but on the whole it's more of a mood-setter than a floor-filler, recalling fellow Melburnians Cut Copy at their less vigorous (but still lushly anthemic), suggesting a sprightlier, fleshier take on the xx's darkly stylish veneer and updating the epic romanticism of early U2 (specifically their guitar textures) and early Stars. For a band so centrally concerned with tone and texture, Clubfeet's most impressive feat here -- and what sets them apart from many of their contemporaries -- is the amount of personality they're able to convey while maintaining a consistent dominant mood. It operates in subtle ways -- never overbearing, nearly genteel -- but their distinctive charm is nevertheless apparent throughout, often in the touches of humor and lightness they bring to what's largely a sober-minded affair: an oddly chipper tropical beatbox undercutting the lavish melancholy of "Fall from Up Here," a sweet, simple piano figure running through the achingly languorous "Six Days," or the spoken word group chants in both "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)" (which, Heathers-referencing aside, seems essentially straight-faced about its titular subject, making for a noble message of perhaps dubious utility in a dance-pop song) and "D.I.E. Yuppie Scum" (which, contrarily, is pretty plainly a gag). The latter two songs are the album's most immediate, attention-getting standouts and most likely dance jams, mostly by virtue of those chanted hooks, but ultimately neither one measures up to "Count Your Lovers," which gets by on pure melody and prettiness. Another highlight is a candy-sweet synth pop rendition of James' "Say Something" which, in addition to being a well-chosen and beautifully executed cover, is one of few moments where Clubfeet set aside their guitars entirely, meaning that perhaps the most electronic thing on the album is a version of a rock song. Who needs pigeonholes anyway?

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