6 Bands Whose Sound Changed For The Better

credit: Luis Ruiz

credit: Luis Ruiz

Henry: Second chances are my favourite type of chances; there’s no feeling quite like making good on a second chance. It’s also satisfying when you decide to give something a second chance and it turns out OK. Imagine if you’d quit Selfie after its pilot. You’d have missed this! Imagine if you’d’ve bailed on Happy Endings because its first season was a little sketch. You’ve have missed the Most Important TV Show of Our Time! Is my life a perpetual cycle of heartbreak at the cancellation of under-watched sitcoms? Perhaps. But I also enjoy wasting time investing way too much in artists and sometimes that pay-off’s pretty good. We’re taking a look through some bands whose sound changed for the better and won us over.

Michael: Henry speaks the truth, even if both of his examples come from criminally under watched televsion shows of the past five years. Things sometimes start badly, but it doesn’t mean they won’t end well. Pay-off is the best! Unfortunately this is a rare thing. For every one of these bands beneath, there are a million more whose sound got dramatically worse. You give me Passion Pit, I give you The Twang, The Courteeners, The View and basically any other landfill indie band from 2008. So it’s pretty awesome when a band finds their groove and pushes on further. ^Also Klaxons.

H: Klaxons! You meant so much to my iPod nano and me at point!

1) Passion Pit

H: Each time Passion Pit releases new music, it’s met with the same-old, same-old ‘I preferred their old stuff.’ In fairness, they do change their music up quite a bit. And you’re not wrong if you prefer the hazy electronica of 2008’s Chunk of ChangeI’ve Got Your Number and Sleepyhead are great summer-chill tunes for the poolside, but their second album – 2012’s Gossamer – upgraded their sound and they reached a newfound sophistication. It’s a sort-of pop production, with a sort-of electronic sound and sort-of indie lyrics. In 2012, it sounded on-trend without sounding trendy (that was a year of mainstream EDM and dubstep) and was a thankful stand-out from the crowd. It’s marked out by Constant Conversations, On My Way and Hideaway. Two new 2015 tracks – Where The Sky Hangs and Lifted Up –  sound like another evolution but it’s a familiarly sophisticated sound.

M: As someone who wasn’t actually a Passion Pit man to begin with, their change for the better has been seriously great. The clean thrills they brought to the table on Gossamer with some delightfully sweet lead singles (I’ll Be Alright, Take a Walk) and some fairly genre pushing moments (like Henry, Constant Conversations was a stand-out for me) were a breath of fresh air in a fairly drab year of David Guetta and Pitbull dance songs. All signs say that this year is going to be another leap forward. And seriously, this video is the cutest thing you’ll see all day.

2) Years & Years

H: The band’s shed two members since this early release but still, this is a bit of a shock. This sound is so late 2000s for me. It sounds like every low-key indie band that called time of death once Grouplove perfected the sound in 2011 with Never Trust a Happy Song. Michael, how many of these knock-offs did we listen to during our schooldays? I probably had them all as MP3s on my Nokia at some point. Even the video’s colour scheme is so 2009. It’s when we first discovered American Apparel and wore their zip-up hoodies around in the most obnoxious colours (I went for the default purple). Beneath the sound, the band’s charm is already there and so are their emotionally exposed lyrics. The more I listen to this, the more I like it. But I’m glad they’ve never sounded like this again.

M: This is honestly the weirdest thing to hear ever. It’s so weird because it is so crazily familiar. Like, this is all we listened to for years of our adolescence. It was when I was rocking the coloured skinnies and a purple hoodie with lightening bolts on it just for the record. I think the craziest thing though is how much I like this. This feels so 2009 but 2009 was freakin’ awesome (Look See Proof 4 lyf) so this is remarkably enjoyable. But yes, thank God Real got some Radio 1 airplay last night not this.

P.S. this song is on both of our iPhones right now.

3) Kele

M: Bloc Party’s demise has been well documented. My occasional rants are probably not the best accounts if you’re looking to get the details but they are almost certainly a pretty accurate representation of the disappointment many fans have felt since the wildly disappointing Intimacy. The thing is, at least Bloc Party endeavoured to take their sound further and develop. It just didn’t work. Thankfully for Kele Okereke, his solo project has followed the opposite curve. The bizarre set of songs on The Boxer made for an uneven and sometimes disorientating debut record but for his follow up (following a disappointing Bloc Party record Four) Kele went bigger and bolder with cracking results. Listen to Humour Me and remember why changing sound is what artists must do. The saddest thing is that this sound fix has not been reflected in chart sales. Sometimes you only get one go at winning the public over. The Boxer failed and so Trick went far too widely unheard. What I hate is that I’m part of this, I only listened to Trick last month because I hated The Boxer! Here’s hoping for a bit more open mindedness from the third one (me included).

4) Purity Ring

M: This might initially seem like an odd one. Purity Ring’s debut LP Shrines is absolutely fantastic. A defining piece of femtronica (even if they say their genre is actually future pop), it’s a stunning mixture of haunting imagery, fantastic production and infectious alternative charm. To many, their second effort Another Eternity will not be a noticeable improvement but to me, I feel obliged to make the case that it is. Pretty much all of what made Shrines great is still there on Another Eternity (listen to Flood on the Floor seriously) but the sound has been refined and developed. Purity Ring have a fanbase monumentally bigger now than they did when they first released Lofticries and with that is the need to please a far larger market while still trying to appease those of us who have been there from the beginning. Consider me appeased, and then some. Push Pull is one of my favourite songs of the year so far and lead single Bodyache is just vintage Purity Ring. So people of the hype train, please don’t just breeze past this album just because it’s their second. They’ve matched and exceeded what they accomplished last time around, don’t be too trendy to miss out.

H: I think future pop is a sincerely stupid term. Whatever; I’m listening to this album a lot right now; Begin Again and Heartsigh are obvious highlights so far. Anyway, all of Purity Ring’s original magic is here – weird anatomical lyrics, romantic musings – it’s just more accessible now. Access is good!

5) Nada Surf

H: While there’s nothing wrong with Nada’s Surf’s studio debut, 1996’s High/Low, their sound has just got richer and richer since. High/Low – best known for its drawl-pop single Popular – is a product of its time, late ’90s alternative American rock. That’s a genre I like! The album probably played the credits on a lot of late ’90s rom-coms that I used to watch with my older brother and sister. That’s my happy place! But by their third album – 2002’s Let Go, which is one of my favourite albums of all time – Nada Surf had become warmer, and softened in their approach to song-writing. It’s still about teenage love and ennui (it’s not surprising that Nada Surf provided the soundtrack to one of the most iconic moments in The O.C) but it’s also gentler, and more hopeful. Let Go’s centrepiece, Inside Of Love – with its liminal narration and discomfiting structure – reads like the more sentimental chapters of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. I reckon Nada Surf realised that the shelf life of sarcastic-MTV-rock bands is pretty short, and decided that playing to their strengths – creating sophisticated, lovely but also clever music – would be their best route. If that’s the case, they were right. Nada Surf now resemble Death Cab; if Death Cab woke up on a sunny Saturday morning, brewed a coffee, looked out their double-bay windows and smiled. That’s a version I like a lot, and it’s meant that Nada Surf have carved out a pretty enduring space in the musical landscape. 2008’s Lucky is another high watermark for the band and 2012’s The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy was satisfying enough that I’m hopeful for their upcoming album (I follow them on Facebook; I’m pretty invested at this point).

6) Vampire Weekend

M: I cannot believe this was the band I thought of last for this post because if there ever was a band that has improved over time it’s Vampire Weekend. Don’t get me wrong, A-punk and Oxford Comma were super sweet fun little rock songs that received plenty of airtime on my iPod mini at the age where I could still wear shorts to school (don’t worry, I didn’t. I’m not a dork) but man, have they developed since then. And the thing is, when Contra came out, I honestly didn’t think that was going to be the case. Again, not a bad album but hardly a development on what had come before (Giving up the Gun is a massive highlight though) but what they did for Modern Vampires of the City is career defining stuff. What an album. The best of 2013. Not a doubt in my mind. Diane Young, Worship You and the mind-blowingly special Step are some of my favourite songs ever. If you want change, this is the best it gets.

H: Great pick. Modern Vampires is one of the best albums of the last decade and seems like a major turning point in their discography. I’m really, really partial to Contra (I saw Vampire Weekend for free at Somerset House when they were promoting it) but with their third album, they made good on their promise to make really great, really clever music.

About Michael Crewe

He writes about all the artists you’ve never heard of and never will again. He loves film noir, Southampton football club and Jeff Winger. You can join the world's least effective cult by following him @michaelcrewe or contact him via michael@canyouhearthis.co.uk

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