Atlas Genius fell into one of those dream, internet-age situations with their first single, “Trojans”. They gained popularity from music blogs, which quickly launched them into record deals and TV appearances. Now, nearly two years after that first single was released, they have their debut full-length, When It Was Now— a synth-fueled, uneven ’80s effort with flickers of promise.
The dancey shimmer of the latest new wave trend is everywhere, and it takes something big to bust out of the noise. Atlas Genius has that capability, as they demonstrate on a few tracks. Opener “Electric” has a combo of climbing and falling synths a la The Rapture combined with the hook-on-hook of The Killers. Lead singles “Trojans” and “If So” are more traditional ’80s throwbacks, but the ass-shaking, layered stadium sound shows why the former track launched them to notoriety overnight.
Lead singer Keith Jeffrey’s voice is smooth and dynamic. It has the phase filter and shallow reverb common to the genre, but he’s able to fill the expanse created by his bandmates (two of whom are his brothers, incidentally). There is a bit too much sheen on his voice and on the music overall, which makes it feel too sterile or plain. The songs fade too easily into the background with the rest of the genre, and nothing pops out.
Unfortunately, the unorthodox intro to “Electric” evokes a feeling that is never again hit. The songs are addictive, but the rest fall into a formula far too easily. If the band allowed itself a little more edge, it may have turned some songs, like the MGMT ripoff “Don’t Make a Scene”, into their next super hits. As it is, When It Was Now has three great songs, four decent, and four forgettable. The great ones show potential, but Atlas Genius needs to get dangerous and stop playing it safe.
Essential Tracks: “Electric”, “If So”