In his recent State interview, Not Squares’ Keith Winter described their keenly awaited second album as the “slightly posh-coffee cousin” to 2010’s energetic debut Yeah OK, a description that holds a degree of weight. As the Belfast trio have maintained, their second record is all about the evolution of their sound, and while Bolts is certainly a slower, more ambient, and probably more refined experience than it’s predecessor, it appears to lack the overwhelming sense of identity and purpose equated with their first offering.
Stylistically the two albums are not noticeably disparate, with Not Squares’ signature brand of dance-punk still very much present, but while their debut doted on its raw energy and capricious unpredictability, the evidently more dextrous follow up leans further toward the mainstream, feeling more formulaic as a result. Whereas brilliantly sporadic intro track ‘Can Opener’, with its impossibly catchy break-beat pattern, suggests an excitingly uneven approach, the album instead proceeds to pursue a more balanced, rather predictable structure from there on.
Although the simple segmenting of the zippy, radio-friendly synth of ‘Oops said Hi’, ‘Fall Far’ and ‘Simpler Vibe’ between the more industrial sounds of the cleverly named bridging tracks (M2, M4, M6 & M8) provides ample balance to the record, the regimentation in turn takes away from the overall intensity of the sound. The other problem lies in the nature of the ambient tracks which, despite being interesting in their own right, seem to pertain to a highly exalted style perfected by standard bearers like Aphex Twin and Jon Hopkins, one which, for the moment at least, seems somewhat beyond a band in relative infancy.
This is not to take away from the quality of Not Squares’ work, which although somewhat waning in terms of intrigue this time around, still boasts its fair share of vibrancy and stimulation, meteoric dance banger ‘Hey You’ being a prime example. For all its appeal however, Bolts still feels more like a stage of development, rather than the seminal body of work it was intended to be.