Harrys Gym are an outfit whose every move is measured, from the building blocks of their signature sound to their astute enlisting of producer James Rutledge to beef up their dream-pop mode. Even their omission of a possessive apostrophe has its reasoning in Norwegian grammar. Fact.
The Nordic electro-quartet, however, find themselves in a market heaving with contemporaries at the top of their respective games, particularly their northern European neighbours: The Concretes grew beyond pleasantries with 2010’s excellent WYWH, while The Knife enjoy the sort of devoted following most bands would give their eye teeth to have.
Harrys Gym, as such, find themselves faced with the task of kicking on from a positively-received eponymous 2008 debut and producing something altogether more essential; a mission in which their indietronic trappings fall short – but not by much.
As is the case with their aforementioned peers, Harrys Gym boast the virtues of distinctive female vocals in the form of lead singer Anne Lise Fr�kedal’s melancholic timbre. Such is its strength, however, that other elements take on an unintended blandness in their functions as foils or vehicles for Fr�kedal’s evocative intonations; the songwriting just can’t keep up.
Which isn’t to say, of course, that Harrys Gym fight a losing battle throughout. Opener Old Man – not a cover of the Neil Young classic, unfortunately – weaves an enchanting patchwork of brooding chimes, gentle harmonies and a delicate, gorgeous chorus, while The Visitor adopts tinkering guitar pickery for a Tori Amos-esque number and Mountains summons dusty, faded imagery in The Black Keys‘ mould.
No Hero, too, convinces with crushing percussion, glitchy bass and a brooding, threatening aura, and Toothpaste’s orchestral qualities set it out as rather marvellous soundtrack fodder.
Thereafter though, the album’s fresh-fisted vitality seems to squander the head of steam so steadily built up. The Ring, while ostensibly rocking, still seems to suggest a slight rehashing of ideas already more effectively exploited both earlier in the tracklisting and by other bands previously (sounding, as it does, like an unfinished Longcut effort).
The LP’s final furlong, while entirely listenable, can be filed in the same drawer. Sailing Home in a snapshot sounds great – mimicking the suspicion of Hail To The Thief era Radiohead – but taken as a slightly lolloping whole it comes over as post-indie-by-numbers; Tell It To My Face bears an unfortunate resemblance to minimalist filler, as does the pleasant but pedestrian The Part That Falls.
While such an assessment may seem harsh – especially given the LP’s successes in its early stretches – one can look to album closer Next Time as the band in microcosm: Fr�kedal sears herself into memory, but the thud-clap track and droning chords are unadventurous, and streets behind the output of the genre’s best. As Roy Walker would say, Harrys Gym are good, but they’re not the one.