Alphabeat

The Beat Is...

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When the pristine power pop of Alphabeat's eponymous domestic debut was buffed up and made over into the even shinier, synthier version of itself that became their gleamingly fluorescent international debut (retitled This Is Alphabeat), it sure seemed like the Danish sextet had hit some kind of insurmountable limit, an ultimate pinnacle of pure pop that just couldn't get any brighter or peppier. That turned out not to be the case, however: The Beat Is... (which, like its predecessor, sports a different title from its Danish counterpart, The Spell, as well as a marginally revised track sequence) is an even glossier, more unabashedly poptastic affair than their first album. Continuing in the overtly dancy direction signaled by the tracks added to their debut's re-release (in particular "Touch Me Touching You") and the popular Pete Hammond remix of "Boyfriend," and slightly updating the band's oh-so-'80s touchstones, Beat takes its cues from turn of the '90s club music: Hi-NRG, Euro-beat, hip-house, and the Scandinavian synth-reggae of Ace of Base. Leading the way is a clutch of undeniable floor-fillers boasting just about every era-appropriate production trick imaginable: the chunky piano riffs and Styrofoam string hits of the instantly infectious "The Spell" (a better, sleeker leadoff than the rather quizzical, vocoder-heavy title track), the filtered rush and gleefully superfluous turntable scratches of "DJ," the swelling snares and kinetic popcorn synths of "Heatwave" -- all of them colossal earworms that also happen to showcase Stine Bramsen's impressively gritty, soulful house-diva vocals. There's nothing remotely approaching a ballad -- the darkly dramatic "Heart Failure" comes closest to the moody fare that slightly sank the latter half of their debut, but even that features a bumptious disco beat -- but the album does mellow a bit for the winningly slinky "Q&A" and "Chess" (which earns points for an unusual if clunky lyrical conceit and a genuinely playful arrangement featuring timpani, marimbas, and amusingly adulterated vocals). While the stylistic dictates of this material may have made Alphabeat's songwriting a bit more simplistic this time out (not that their earlier work was exactly overflowing with structural complexity), their knack for melodic hooks is as sharp as ever. Some listeners may pine for the less streamlined, less electronic, arguably more personable style of their debut, which after all peddled a distinctly different shade of retro-pop nostalgia, but those willing to move with the times (or rather, the 20-year revival cycle) will agree that the 'Beat have crafted another winner.

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