It’s been four years since X Ambassadors’ debut record VHS (check it out on Spotify) propelled the band into the success they now enjoy, with the massive singles “Unsteady” and – the one you couldn’t escape for a good year – “Renegades.” Now they are back with their follow-up, Orion (available now on all major digital/streaming platforms. Since their debut, the now three-piece (multi-instrumentalist Noah Feldshuh took an indefinite hiatus from the group in 2016) have grown and become a staple name in the indie/pop community, rising up around the time bands like Imagine Dragons and Twenty One Pilots were blowing up in a huge way. After a long wait, the world finally has new music to play and, oh my…where to begin?
To put it simply, this album is absolutely scattered and, unfortunately, it isn’t an “oh they’re really pushing themselves” good type of scattered. The group maintains their signature simplified indie sound, including the incorporation of some hip-hop influences, even having singer/rapper K. Flay on the track, “Confidence,” which like a lot of these songs, doesn’t offer anything that would turn heads.
It’s time to lay down the “Boom” with the first single and video from Orion.
A lot of the songs come across as bland and uninspired (“Quicksand,” “Wasteland”) and, musically, the band goes everywhere. “Boom” has a more funky feel to it, with a killer instrumental, but it is victim to one of the biggest problems with this record; which we will get into later. The result of the song “Shadow” is a weak attempt at an ‘80s tribute and, the following track, “I Don’t Know How to Pray” comes out of nowhere as a gospel-influenced tune. Surely, you get the point by now. There is a lot to dissect here.
One of the main tropes that the band falls into is the minimal chorus. To elaborate, this is where the chorus is either a single word/phrase (usually the song title), a one-liner, or entirely instrumental; a very common current tendency amongst pop/rock groups. It is rarely effective, but they continuously go back to it (“Hold You Down,” “Recover”). Even on some of the stronger tracks like the opener “Hey Child,” which initially offered some hope for the new release, and the closer “Happy Home.” It gets real old real fast but lingers throughout the record. Not to say this album is all bad. As mentioned, the first and last tracks are the stronger suites of the record and the acoustic ballad “History“ is a beautiful, shining light amidst the rest. “Rule,” the fifth track, is a lo-fi, bass-heavy tune that over time sticks with you. It’s easily the track I have gone back to more than any other.
This style of indie pop came out swinging in the early to mid-2010’s, and you could not rid your ears of it. Unfortunately, as fast as it rose, it seems to have gone down. X Ambassadors may have tried to hone the sound they have, but, when the sound you already have is somewhat mediocre, maybe that’s a sign it’s time to take some more significant risks.
This is X Ambassadors’ latest music video for “Hold You Down.”
Orion Track Listing:
01. Hey Child
02. Confidence (feat. K. Flay)
10. I Don’t Know How to Pray
11. Hold You Down
Run Time: 35:20
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Record Label: KIDinaKORNER/Interscope