Kool Thing are not shy about brandishing their influences, and they do so proudly. Most obviously, at least, the Berlin-based trio take their name from a Sonic Youth song, but every major player in 80s alternative rock and pop is given their dues on this, their self-titled debut album. From Depeche Mode to Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins to U2, Kool Thing are beholden to many of the decade’s most iconic, boundary-pushing acts but still manage to produce a tight, riveting collection of songs that sparkle with innovation and hide great lyrical sweetness.
Leading ladies Julie Chance and Jon Dark share in the nostalgic warmth of venturing under cover of darkness, and Kool Thing is as much dedicated to youthful spontaneity and the allure of the shadows as it is to the band’s musical ancestry. The pair’s experiences are almost solipsistic – they are so ingrained in the night that nothing else matters, barely anything else exists even. All that does matter is you and I, here and now; and there are countless lines tossed out across these 14 tracks that so perfectly capture the excitement of being young and being immersed in a world.
The fantastic ‘Line Drive’ is anchored by the percussive might of Valentin Plessy but finds its power in the Chance-Dark vocal, before spinning off into synthetic euphoria. A verse like “Run with me through the underpass / On the edge of town, in the dead of night / And the radio plays that song we love / It will get us through” is pure escapist fantasy and proves irresistible in collusion with the song’s layered harmonies and with Plessy’s driving beat at its back.
‘Stories by the Bay’ (“Bright lights on the dance floor / Pulling me into you”) and ‘Light Games’ (“Lost in the maze of the undergrowth that leads right back to you”) both display that same magnetism in the midst of some rather glorious instrumentation. ‘Bay’ is built on an ecstatic combination of drums and synths but is tempered by a lackadaisical guitar riff, whereas keyboards fuzzily pulse and guitars tick away unnoticed on the more sultry ‘Light Games’. The same basic elements make up these two songs and many of Kool Thing‘s finest moments, but they are moulded into surprising, impressive forms on every occasion.
However, there are fleeting moments when Kool Thing look beyond stadium-sized electronic rock, and ‘The Sign’ probes outside the box while also coming to sum up all that is right with Kool Thing. The opening riff is so uncomfortably sharp, it sounds like Dark’s fingernails were probably torn off picking its sparing notes The industrial percussion and twinkling keys swell beneath such an icy riff, thus drawing attention to its abnormality. Moreover, the song hits Kool Thing‘s themes precisely and with verve. Simplistic though they may be, the sentiments of “You and me against the world / We’ve got time on our side” and “We move as one with the waves of sound from the big kick drum” are inexplicably emotive and lie in stark contrast with such a jagged backdrop.
Affecting her most ‘Yeah, like, whatever’ drawl on ‘Kool Thing’, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon asked (maybe facetiously, possibly in earnest): “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?” Kool Thing believe in the power of her questions and the hostile, snarling energy of Sonic Youth’s music as much as they want you to believe in their own work. Free of irony and blooded with conviction, these tales of young love and lust are made all the more authentic by the weight of youth’s naivety and its unknowable pleasures. And with the symbiosis of Chance’s dizzying synths and Dark’s squalling guitar, Kool Thing certainly don’t sound like they need liberating any time soon. Dazzling stuff.