Let’s waste no time in finding out…
So, after that introduction, you’re still here? Good. Let me tell you that it’s clear from the first song, “Africa”, that THEY. have been birthed by the current wave of seductive, hazy, drug-chic R&B. The atmosphere is all-consuming, daring to be oppressive. The drums literally thump as the bass follows the thuds, in-between woozy synths circling reverb.
It’s clear, after a few songs in, THEY. are quintessentially new-age R&B. If this doesn’t put you off, then this is an album for you. It isn’t original, their sound borrows heavily from their peers (Bryson Tiller and Tory Lanez come to mind) yet they add their own flavour and spice to the mix. What is that spice? Rock n’ Roll.
THEY. are a result of their influences and one element that is prevalent, even rivalling the hip-hop/R&B aspect, is the roughness and dirtiness of Rock n’ Roll. There’s a grittiness to the project, along with the atmosphere THEY. manage to create. It’s desperately murky and there’s always a grunge-esque guitar chord to be found buried beneath the boom-baps and smooth electronics.
Along with the emphasis of the drums and bass, the duo’s sleazy, breezy attitude comes together to deliver showmanship with flares of excellence. It makes a nice change to hear guitars ring out in a chorus instead of a stampede of synths and electronic SFX.
Although, be prepared: this isn’t a Rock n’ Roll band, so don’t expect blistering solos and finesse. THEY. use the grittiness to deliver a lethally catchy experience, their choice of sound bolsters the experience tenfold.
I’ve seen a couple of comments label THEY. as Nirvana meeting R&B, which, of course, is unfounded and completely untrue. Firstly, having grit and guitars doesn’t grant an automatic comparison to Nirvana and secondly, no, just no.
THEY. are offering a switch-up on a true and tested sound that’s swept this generation off its feet, a sound that’s over-saturating the industry with The Weeknd wannabes. The new wave has been a poisonous viewing and listening experience.
Not only has it damaged what The Weeknd helped to curate, its lessened the appeal; it’s become this generation’s bubblegum pop. So, while THEY. offer up a refreshing experience, they’ve got a way to go.
The blueprint is there, and their debut effort is good, complemented by juggernaut soundscapes, killer melodies and smooth, sultry vocals. The songs come and go, none overstaying their welcome and they’re packed with enough melody and hooks to keep you, er…hooked.
Where the album falters is the songwriting and it’s hard to avoid it when crooning vocals are centre stage. THEY. craft songs that are powerful and strong, sonically, but lacking lyrically. It’s undoubtedly shallow and full of bravado. As wrong as it may be to think this, I wouldn’t expect anything less, I mean I’d be more surprised if I didn’t hear “p**sy, b**ches, ni**a and money” mentioned more times than I can count.
On one hand, it adds to the experience, in the sense it doesn’t really hinder the listening experience. However, from a critical standpoint, if their songwriting was more meaningful and less cliche, it would be far more exciting and special than it is. THEY. know their sound and they know how to demonstrate their abilities, the production is ridiculously dense and meaty.
Instrumentally, it commands your attention, all of the layers come together and flow seamlessly. There were plenty of moments where the instrumentals made me go “that’s naaaasty” because, boy, Nü Religion: Hyena packs some serious punches.
I’ve spoken about the overall sonic aesthetic of the album, let’s break down a few of the strongest tracks. Starting with “Deep End”, which features some of the best “oh na na’s” since Akon (points for nostalgia anyone?) and a stupidly infectious chorus propelled by lush vocals. Instrumentally, it’s built on a simplistic robotic sounding ‘dun dun’ rhythm (I am not kidding) and it’s never sounded so good.
The drum kicks and spasms like a baby in the womb, as the song’s crescendo eases. Next up, “Motley Crew” (I told you these guys are Rock n’ Roll!). It’s another example of what decent and catchy vocal melodies can do for a song. The vocals have the song fully in its grasp, even with the icy bass and keys oozing in the background. “Truth Be Told” is a new-age R&B anthem, pulsating instrumentation, an abundance of gloom with another killer chorus.
It’s funny because nothing really happens during the chorus, in terms of lyrical content. There’s no jaw dropping Adele calibre choruses here at all but THEY. use production magic to create their own level of ‘popping’ off. The chorus for “Truth Be Told” and the song that follows, “What You Want”, are both downright barebones but, damn, they slam.
The album’s closer, “U-RITE”, is a monolithic R&B Trap mash-up. Sirens are the backbone for the beat and it’s lethal, in-fact, I probably died and this is my ghost writing this. When they kicked in, well, I knew it was a jam, coupled with the suave vocals and continued instrumental marvel. It’s so, so good and it’s the perfect album closer for a project such as this.
In a way, it sums up Nü Religion: Hyena nicely. At its core, it’s empty and lyrically shallow, yet triumphant in its scope of sound and catchiness. THEY. have delivered an album made for the good times, and that’s it, there isn’t anything more or less to it and in a way, that’s part of its charm.
THEY. know how to tap into what their audience wants by delivering songs straight-up for the clubs and for the times where you’re driving in the whip, smashing the tunes as ‘dem kids would say.
Nü Religion… is an exercise of digestible, accessible music with enough quality to keep people coming back and with the right attention, THEY. have the potential to cause some commotion. THEY. have delivered an entertaining, well-executed, supercharged hazy R&B journey. THEY.’s Nü Religion: Hyena can be bought on iTunes here.
Words by Jake Gould