As the electro-pop cog in the Copenhagen scene (where bands actually share members and help each other), Hannes Norrvide’s solo project Lust For Youth has been providing the ice encrusted synth detachment for the collective. There have been attempts to cheer things up a bit, most obviously on 2014’s International, but underneath those pumping beats and uplifting synths, there’s always Norrvide’s monotone delivery acting as a reminder that things aren’t that great. He’s the paranoid android that keeps Lust For Youth grounded.
It’s a role that is central to Compassion, since Lust For Youth’s expansion from solo project to a fully-fledged band, a process that began on International. Whenever there’s a definite pull towards something a little more light and positive, Norrvide’s presence ensures that the melancholia is firmly in place.
Take, for example the New Order influences of Better Looking Brother, with its tight guitar lines, vaguely optimistic synths and pepped up dance breaks. In the hands of another, it could have been a massive festival anthem or, at the very least, the backing for Goal On The Month of Match Of The Day, but instead Norrvide’s gloomy tones act as a counterbalance. That’s not to say it’s not a danceable tune – it is – but there’s a tension at the heart of it that prevents any notion of giving in to unbridled euphoria. As a standalone single, it’s possible to hear an element of positivity the line “you have a part to play tonight in whatever is to come” but when surrounded by the conflicting light and dark tones of an entire album it’s hard not to attribute at least a little negativity to it.
Elsewhere, Compassion is in considerable debt to the originators of synth-pop. The influence is undeniable, not least because Norrvide’s vocal style is so similar, but there are also hints to the likes of Gary Numan and M83 too. It’s an album that can’t help but invoke the ’90s dancefloors (specifically, the cider and black soaked murkier, grubbier ones) and the opening track Stardom appears to have been custom built for maximum effectiveness. “I’ve seen these faces before,” croons Norrvide, before stating “I’m complete, I’m content, in your bed… I’m floating”. It’s one of the few moments where he gives in to being comfortable and happy. Limerence follows in a similar vein, tapping into those nostalgic tones and just about coming away without sounding like a tribute act.
The darkness is more fully embraced on Easy Window, which smoulders elegantly and possesses a distinct undertow full of sorrow and a sense of detachment. When it’s done this well, it’s hard not to get swept up in it, but there are moments when it doesn’t quite come off. Tokyo for example might well document a non-descript existence in the city, but there’s nothing to grab on to. Despite a big bassline that promises much but doesn’t really deliver, there’s not much in the way of a tune, no compassion, and unusually for Lust For Youth it’s a little too much by the book.
They save the best for last however, and In Return explores the more experimental side of the band. With its soft focus synths and atmospherics, it is unlike anything else on the album, and perhaps for that reason alone, it’s also the most immersive and interesting track here. Unsurprisingly it is when the band are pushing at the peripheries (such as on the slow burning croon of Display) that they’re at their best. If there’s a future to Lust For Youth, it lies in these flashes of inspiration rather than the sense of nostalgia that pervades much of the album.