It’s healthy sometimes to find a layer of abstraction between yourself and whatever you take for granted. On their fourth full-length LP, International, Scandinavian trio Lust for Youth do the work of building that membrane. International is a move away from the lo-fi, cold wave post-punk of the group’s first three outings toward a brightly colored new wave. Neon synths and honest-to-God guitar riffs adorn the record in place of rusty scrapes and tape hiss. Hannes Norrvide, the outfit’s nucleus and frontman, even attempts a hook or two in his staid, accented bark.
International is Lust for Youth’s cleanest work to date, and in some ways that also makes it their creepiest. Opener “Epoetin Alfa” glows in by-the-books ’80s synthpop fashion, only it’s named, inexplicably, after a drug used to treat anemia in cancer patients. “Time. Design. Persistence,” Norrvide chants, echoes of his mother tongue sharpening his consonants. He goes on: “Life. Price. Decisions. It crossed the line.”
I like the idea of new wave as a lens through which to focus details of, say, medical anxiety or fears of technology, but International deals almost exclusively in enigma. Throughout, Norrvide’s lyrics are either too hard to make out, too vague, or too banal. The chorus on the otherwise catchy “New Boys” concludes with the nondescript exclamation, “Our hearts! Our heads!” Isn’t there a folk rock band named after that conflict?
A few instrumental and spoken word tracks, including a meditative five-minute centerpiece featuring a woman delivering a monologue in Italian, connect the retro bangers. Aside from reinforcing the theme of its title, “Lungomare” doesn’t do much to illuminate whatever’s lurking at the album’s core. It does remind us that we’re not listening to New Order, but not for long: “Armida”, featuring a woman’s guest vocals (more tuneful than Norrvide’s), loops right back into the hooks. Later, “Running” complements its beat with eerie synthetic vocals. “You sure been lost for days,” sings Norrvide, blurring his “lost” into “lust.” For a moment, the gleam dissolves to reveal a glimpse of what the record could have been: a document of post-punk alienation seeded in new wave’s bold strokes.
I come away from International wishing Lust for Youth had done more to estrange themselves from their sources. Can a clean, glossy synthpop record do as much damage to the psyche as a gritty cold wave one? International strains toward that answer, but it ultimately gets distracted by its own sheen.
Essential Tracks: “Epoetin Alfa”