27 Feb 2016

De Staat / O (album review)

As anyone who’d read my li'l piece on some cool Dutch and Belgian bands you ought to check out might remember, De Staat are my absolute favorite Dutch band. Suffice to say that my expectations for O, their fourth studio album, were huge. So the fact that I’m writing this review more than a month after it’s release is in part because I got increasingly busy, but also because at first listens, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

But before we get to that, a little back story. De Staat are a five-piece rockband from the city of Nijmegen. Their sound has been steadily evolving over all their releases. Their debut, Wait For Evolution, was a pretty normal stoner-rock record, with all the instruments played by frontman Torre Florim himself. After the band became an actual band they dropped the slightly more industrial tinged Machinery.

Then in 2013 they followed that up with I_CON, a concept record about icons and conmen that added in a whole heap of new influences; from the electronic pop-sounds of Devil’s Blood to the absolutely insane hard-rocker Witch Doctor. It’s a very rich record that has so many things going on it can sound overwhelming at times, a quality it very much shares with it’s follow up: O.

But where I_CON still has an overall theme, with pretty much every song telling it’s story from the perspective of a shady character, O sounded a bit like a mess on first listens. Even though there appears to be a slight theme about isolation due to social media, most evident on Get On Screen, which finds Florim shouting things like ‘you won’t care, until I share’, no themes are really explored to their full potential. On this album, the electronic elements have come even further to the foreground, creating an even dancier and poppier soundscape then before. However, it felt like some songs got a bit lost under all the synthesizers and sound effects.

Take the track Blues Is Dead. On first listen it sounded like a horribly jumbled mess of NES-style sound effects, ‘hip-hip-hooray!’ chants and zingers like ‘I got ninety-nine solutions, but the blues got none’, with nary a proper hook in sight. The same thing went for songs like Baby and Help Yourself. However, after listening to them a lot of times, they really grew on me. It turns out they all do have hooks, pretty glorious ones at that, it just might take some time to find them. But once you do, every other seemingly random elements slots into place.

While the songs I didn’t especially like at first grew on me, the songs I did like on first listen did so even more. I already thought album opener and first single Peptalk was one of the greatest things the band has ever put out and I haven’t changed my mind yet. Make The Call, Leave It All is a slice of pure pop perfection and the aforementioned Get On Screen boasts an absolutely brilliant chorus. My absolutely favorite song on the record is Murder Death, an immensely sleazy and badass track about, well, murdering death. The main synth line sounds like it was ripped straight from the VHS of a forgotten video nasty (in other words; absolutely perfect) and it’s paired with a killer riff.

So while O is in my opinion not the best De Staat-record (that honour still goes to I_CON), it does mark a brilliant new step in their discography towards even grander things. It all seems to pay off too, since they’ll be be supporting Muse in some German enormodrome come March. They've got an UK date at the Camden Barfly on the horizon in that same month, but that’s already sold out. Be sure to see them in such an intimate setting if you can, since putting out records like O isn’t exactly likely to make them play those for much longer.


(written by Reinier de Zouw)