REVIEW: Hearts on Fire

FMLYBND goes pro in their latest EP Hearts on Fire: professionally frustrating.

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The Isla Vista synth rockers set the musical stage with their brand of “live electronica,” toying with future bass textures while crafting soaring rock anthems and swooping dance breakdowns.  Lyrically the songs focus on making a way through the world with the one you love by your side.  Metaphorically, they get gangster in “Gold Necklace,” cosmic in “Space & Time,” and mythical in “Phoenix.”  However, it’s actually pretty generic material, with the song structures following the pattern set by last year’s single series and the previous year’s EP Back to Life.  The songs actually feel more like another single series, barely clinging on to each other to form a semi-complete experience.

The most frustrating element of the release is how dang enjoyable the thing still is.  Even though the songs’ familiarity is uncomfortable, there is just enough variety and progression to warrant a listen.  Even though the lyrics are thematically stereotypical, there’s just enough metaphorical uniqueness to pull the EP forward.  It’s maddening.  The EP carries so much potential without capitalizing on it.  It’s like “that kid” who really could be getting A’s, but he settles for average C’s and B’s; and he’s still a charmer nevertheless.

And yet … it could have been so much more.  Should the band have brought their sound to the next level — they’re only about a half-level higher here — or provoked deeper thought with their themes and metaphors, this could have been a breakout.  FMLYBND has been simmering in the musical underground, and it’s about time that they moved into a new arena.

At the end of the EP, we’re left with a heavily mixed bag.  On one hand, we have an interesting blend of grungy vocals and experimental dance music; on the other hand, we have some apparent laziness.  Neither of these factors is too bad or too good to overpower the other.  Hearts on Fire is a scale evenly balanced, drifting one way or another at the slightest breeze.  The band still has great potential, and this EP isn’t terrible; so I will continue to follow FMLYBND with a watchful eye and attentive ear.  But this outing overpromises and underdelivers.  Listening to Hearts on Fire is like eating a bag of marshmallows: enjoyable and repeatable, yet still unsatisfying in the end.

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