Lauren Moore met her Mass Love bandmate David Beukes a few years ago, not in a bar or at a gig, but in a Reddit thread devoted to cult favorite TV series Firefly. Beukes, a South African producer, and Moore, an Indianapolis singer will release new album Archetype (the followup to 2014's Prototype) digitally on Saturday.
Given that the genesis of their band comes from a shared passion for a serialized outer-space Western TV show, it's no surprise that Mass Love has a penchant for the epic. The first song on their debut concerned Caprica, the Earth-like home planet from Battlestar Galactica, and they lead off Archetype in similarly fantastical fashion on "To War," a march-like anthem of dark, reverberating synth and thundering drums.
Not every song opines with such end-of-days urgency, but compared to Prototype, Archetype's tone is amplified. Beukes' production remains dramatic throughout, with cavernous, echoing drums and unpredictable turns in song structure that sometimes feels jarring. Moore's vocals are often double- or triple-tracked as well, sometimes in poly-harmony, and usually paired with some technicolor instrumentation. That's a lot of sonic theatrics over the course of a 12-track album, and as a result, the pace of Archetype can feel a bit exhausting. Lyrically, the high stakes don't always yield a great payoff either. As Moore dubs the group "legit hit masters" in "To War" over some wubby synths and a flute riff on "Hype," the album starts to sound a bit overdone.
Archetype does scale things back a bit at times, and these moments prove to be some of the more poignant points on the album. Both Moore's voice and lyrics carry "Anxiety," a sparkling, sparse confessional that builds slowly and beautifully. The simple lyrics of longing on "In the Meantime" sound lovely, too, and are underscored by similarly simple production: a churning synth riff punctuated with an arpeggiated flourish.
Mass Love is at their best when messing around with the dynamics of song structure, rising or falling, building or tearing down, and creating an atmosphere that has a sense of pace and purpose. "Strange," perhaps the standout on Archetype, exudes the same type of urgency that infects much of the album, but the song grows with such a purposeful pace that when it crashes from its spaced-out verses into a thumping, looped hook of "F-f-f-feeling strange," it achieves its desired effect: emanating paranoia that still belongs on a 3 a.m. dance floor.
In their best moments, this is the kind of dual effect that Mass Love's soaring electro-pop can create, but the duo doesn't always stick their landing on Archetype. Here, they focused less on the trancey style of their debut and have composed a blend of theatrical electro-pop that's certainly fit to soundtrack the end of days, but sometimes gets overtaken by its atmosphere.