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Spielbergs - This Is Not the End Music Album Reviews

On their debut LP, the Norwegian trio emboldens their customary celebration rock by adding emphatic stretches of post-rock and power pop.

Distant Star, the 2018 debut EP from Oslo’s Spielbergs, took less than a second to put its target market on notice. Throttling, distorted octaves and massive drum rolls moved in lockstep, instantly evoking decades worth of bands, both boyish and brawny, who most effectively communicated their feelings through “whoas.” This style of rock is perpetually deemed obsolescent, but it always seems to find an audience dealing with the same issues. Played with enough urgency, it doesn’t become relevant but simply asks, “Why do we waste so much time caring, anyway?” Spielbergs clearly understood those mechanics; their original band name, after all, was We Are All Going to Die, which doubles as the name of the first song they wrote. It’s the fourth tune on their debut LP, This Is Not the End, where it now serves as a weighty sentiment rather than a mission statement.

Spielbergs are a new band, but they are not necessarily a young one. All three members cut their teeth in the upper middle class of 2000s Norwegian indie rock—this means things like “playing shows with Yeasayer” and “making a music video starring a Boy Scout uniform.” This Is Not the End doesn’t directly reference any of this, but these are load-bearing biographical details. Sincerity is the most essential element in this style of rock, the counterbalance to its inherent lack of innovation or currency; even the slightest perceived lapse of good faith can make it seem pandering. Spielbergs formerly struggled with indie careerism, and this is now what they do for fun. The irony—that is, they achieved far greater and quicker success with Distant Star than with their past projects—simply reinforces Spielbergs’ spirit.

This Is Not the End includes two of the three singles from Distant Star, and the bulk lands within that celebration-rock mold—physical intensity, gooey emotions, devotionals that are joyous without being party music. While 85 percent of Spielbergs’ main influences trace back to the Replacements, they don’t have much use for the requisite self-deprecation and sabotage, veering instead toward glammier, bolder gestures. The late chorus of “Distant Star,” for instance, drops the guitars so Mads Baklien can lead the handclaps over the kick drum, while a climactic scream during “You All Look Like Giants” finally exposes the band’s old roots in esoteric post-hardcore. Their experience shows through making payoffs seem generous rather than gratuitous.

Distant Star could feel unbalanced, with excursions into shoegaze and synth-pop textures that didn’t feel like priorities. This Is Not the End is convincingly expansive. Spielbergs dabble with sturdier, shinier forms, the stuff that most bands of this sort don’t touch until subsequent albums. “Five on It” reintroduces Spielbergs as a propulsive power-pop project, though “Familiar” and “McDonald’s (Please Don’t Fuck Up My Order)” float in post-rock ether. Scratchy acoustic excerpts and instrumental interludes make This Is Not the End feel coherent, despite the substantial range.

Spielbergs don’t deal in complex subjects, and they sing plainly enough that any hook heard on the first chorus can be joined on the second: “You’re a bad friend! You’re a bad friend! You’re a bad friend to me!,” goes a song called, well, “Bad Friend.” But it’s harder to say what Spielbergs are about. This Is Not the End’s only real flaw is its proximity to bands that achieved transcendence precisely because their monomaniacal commitment risked embarrassment. Japandroids write almost exclusively about having your best girl under one arm and your best bro under the other, a beer in hand. And for about half an hour, seemingly anyone could get swept up in Beach Slang’s thrill of a 40-something singer pushing past fear of judgment.

Chalk up the comparatively low stakes here to the cozy production or the fact that Spielbergs were borne of an “adult youth club thing” rather than desperate artistic straits. “We could be soulmates,” Baklien screams during “Distant Star,” too hesitant to insist we will be soulmates. It’s the difference between a mid-afternoon daydream at your cubicle and a record that might actually make you quit your job, like Our Band Could Be Your Life for people who need a backup plan.

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