Those who have followed Hannah Lew’s career will know the former Grass Widows’ member and current mastermind of Cold Beat is not one to settle. If anything, she is one of the most unpredictable artists at this time. Post-punk, shoegaze, indie rock, krautrock, synth-pop, she’s nearly done it all. Cold Beat’s third album, Into The Air, was her most surprising and ambitious, as she expanded her palette and tackled multiple sounds and techniques. The most memorable songs, however, were not the guitar-driven rockers of her past but the CHVRCHES-esque, synth-pop ballads. These tracks, such as “Spirals” forewarned us of what was to come. On Cold Beat’s latest album, Chaos By Invitation, Lew guides her mates deep into the world of electronica. The result is the band’s most focused record to date and arguably their most rewarding and personal output in their four-plus years.
Chaos By Invitation, however, is by no means for the faint of heart. Unlike the soaring, contemporary synth-pop approach taken on Into The Air, Lew looks towards the new wave, dark wave, and synth-pop of the ’70s and ’80s. The album is full of music that often is hallow yet hypnotic, daunting yet immersive, and this starker soundscape provides the perfect backdrop to Lew’s intimate and gripping songwriting.
The opener, “In Motion”, immediately welcomes us into Cold Beat’s new world. Lew’s synthesizers create a dreamy and near euphoric tone, but the approach masks her heart-ripping lyrics. “Are we at an impasse this day?”, the San Francisco-based artist asks and later answers that with another question, “How can I move on when everything is in motion?” The Kraftwerk-influenced “Black Licorice” and “Chainmaille” are gritty, darkwave numbers, where Lew’s post-punk days can be heard.
With “False Alarms”, Lew has crafted a song that brilliantly marries the crippling darkness with dreamy euphoria. The trance-like melody and Lew’s deadpan vocals heighten the song’s message about the doubts in our mind controlling our emotions. However, it is on “Ivory Tower” where the darker side shines. This song is majestic in its quality and haunting in its delivery. It would be the perfect song on an episode of Stranger Things where the truth behind a curiosity is revealed
The entire album, though, does have its most of brightness. “Thin Ice” is one of the rare, guitar-driven tracks, and, not surprisingly, one of the album’s more “anthemic” songs. An Operators-esque vibe percolates on “Don’t Touch”. It is one part a melodic post-punk number and another part a searing synth-pop number that will lead to uncontrollable dancing. Like the other songs on the LP, Lew plays with our mind with her lyrics, specifically as she sings:
“A voice is calling.
Don’t go down this solitary tomb.
It is on “62 Clouds”, though, that Lew delivers the album’s most scintillating and engaging number. The crystalline notes from the electric guitar, the stuttering synth beats, and the heart-pounding bass line create a chest-swelling soundscape. Suddenly, one feels like she is adrift high in the atmosphere, as Lew’s distant voice guides her effortlessly through time and space. Yet despite the warm and breathtaking approach of the song, there is a chilling, introspective element in Lew’s lyrics. The song is not merely about a new lease on life, but one that is full of memories, some of which are painful. Fortunately for us, Lew and her bandmates deliver powerful, introspective stories through music that is at times exhilarating and breathtaking, and other times transfixing and intoxicating. She is, after all, an unpredictable master of her craft.
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