It almost feels like nothing changed at all
One of my favorite terms in the realm of music is “sophomore album.” Combining a band’s latest release with the word to describe one’s second year of high school, this phrase delineates the daunting task of producing the follow-up to a (typically successful) first album, complete with all the same nerves and lofty expectations to live up to. You never see something described as a “junior album,” though, most likely because by this time the band has already established itself as a machine, churning out hits that match their regular tone, which keeps fans coming back for more.
For Bastille, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, with their “sophomore album,” they flipped their established genre on its head, trading in the anthemic drums and soft piano ballads for rocky guitars and in-your-face messages of hopelessness and the lies fed to us by the media. As frontman Dan Smith often says, there aren’t many happy Bastille songs. Now with their third album, Doom Days, the band has once again shaken up their song stylings, opting for a rhythmic 90’s hip hop vibe, and while the songs may seem morose in nature – as usual – the Bastille feeling is still there. From the notes they play to the words they speak, Doom Days is as important for today’s society as it is fun to jam out to.
Bastille has been working on this, their third album, for about three years now. Starting soon after finishing their second, Wild World, the band quickly moved onto releasing new music, from the title track, “Quarter Past Midnight,” to the EDM banger “Happier” with mainstream DJ, Marshmello, which received commercial success and extensive radio play, but is not featured on Doom Days, much to my dismay. This omission makes sense in the long run, though, as Doom Days is, in essence, a concept album, following an unknown stranger as they experience a crazy night out. It is unclear if the night is just a random Saturday or if it is, in fact, the end of the world. However the final track, “Joy,” makes it pretty obvious that all party guests survived the night, and life will proceed as normal from here on out.
Perhaps the most cryptic thing about Doom Days – and fortunately the most disappointing thing about the album as a whole – was its marketing. As previously mentioned, this album has been in development for a while, and while one song released in May of 2018, not much was known about it until a few months before the album’s release. After releasing Other People’s Heartache, Pt. 4 – Bastille’s fourth installment in their mixtape series of cover tracks – on December 7 and touring with a choir and classical instruments throughout various cathedrals in Europe on their Reorchestrated tour, the band went nearly radio silent on social media. Smith, for a short time, hyped up a marathon he was about to run in for charity, and soon after the band’s Instagram was completely wiped. Cryptic messages began pouring out day by day, and on April 25 it was officially made known that “Doom Days are coming.”
Under the aforementioned tagline, the band began dropping promotional materials like rain, from a new single three weeks in a row to a whole line of merchandise advertising the album’s impending release. Furthermore, once the album’s release date and tracklist were announced, the band posted a list of gigs where they would be playing the album in its entirety throughout England, as well as an art exhibit/concert installation on launch night, complete with a cryptic location revealed only through latitude and longitude coordinates. The whole thing was trippy, to say the least, and while Wild World blew fans’ minds with the whole “WW Comms” promo and its focus on the “big brother” nature of modern media, Doom Days went above and beyond to confuse the hell out of listeners who just wanted some more Bastille music in their lives. I must admit, though, the Doom Days Society is a brilliant concept, providing an open forum for the band and their fans to get together and share the things they love in one dedicated space. Bastille adores their fans, and with this album, I think it’s safe to say those fans are feeling the love.
Getting back to the music at hand, I must say I was underwhelmed by the minimal tracklist comprising Doom Days, especially considering four of the songs had already been released as singles, and one of them was heavily teased within “The Descent,” a song from December’s OPH4. Fortunately, Doom Days follows the old adage “quality over quantity,” and while it still pales in comparison to the meaty listing of over 15 songs on either previous Bastille album, the 11 tracks Doom Days has on offer are almost all hits in their own right. This was a pleasant surprise, considering both prior albums included less-than-favorable songs that left me “warming up to them” as time went on. However, with Doom Days, I found myself falling in love with every song – in some aspect – as it came on.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Nelly and Seal – both of which, coincidentally, Bastille has covered in their mixtape series – the encompassing sound of this album screams hip hop, complete with synths and drum pads. This is all very unorthodox for a band such as Bastille, who tends to rely more on beaming vocals and get-out-of-your-seat energy, rather than this laid-back “bumpin’ in the blacklight” depiction of musical mastery. Mastery it is, indeed, as Bastille takes this style of music and makes it their own, once again proving they cannot be bound to one genre, and showing the world that sometimes the best art is formed through careful research and innovative emulation.
While the feeling of 90’s hip hop flows throughout the album in its entirety, the Bastille at heart still rings true. While nearly every song has a catchy dance beat, some of them have that anthemic sound that fans should feel accustomed to by now. “Nocturnal Creatures” is a high point in this regard, with a repetitive hook akin to one of their earliest hits, “Of the Night.” This song also shines a spotlight on the best aspect of Doom Days: Dan Smith’s vocal prowess. While Smith has proven himself to be a powerhouse frontman in songs’ past, this album sheds some serious light on his seriously underappreciated range. From the deep monotone used to describe the insanity of the modern age in “Doom Days,” the album’s titular track, to the breathtaking falsetto heard in the (predictably mundane) bridge of “Bad Decisions,” there’s no denying that Dan Smith brings a talent like no other to Bastille.
On the opposite end of the Bastille spectrum, the painful ballad “Divide” will undoubtedly summon a crowd of cell phone flashes with its piano-driven narrative of love gone wrong. Not only does this song surpass “Oblivion” and “Two Evils” as the band’s new gut-wrenching tearjerker, but it also expertly plays its part in the story Doom Days aims to portray. Each song is assigned a certain time of night, starting at a “Quarter Past Midnight” and ending at 8:34 AM. It’s a brilliant idea, much like Lorde’s 2017 album Melodrama, which followed the path of a girl falling in love through the course of a wild party. Bastille succeeds here because they fully commit to the concept at hand, while also subtly describing a much bigger picture: we are destroying our world, slowly but surely, and in the end, all we’ll have is each other.
I remember hearing “Joy” for the first time and not knowing how to react. It felt like a sharp turn for Bastille at first; it didn’t quite fit the bill as to what I expect from the band. But over time, as I heard those words, “I feel my pulse quickening when your name lights up the screen,” I realized that Bastille was right there all along, hidden in those lyrics. From the Neverland references (“We’re gonna Peter Pan out” in “Doom Days” and “We never, never give up on the lost boy life” in “The Waves,”) to the sillier phrases (“take a bow for the ‘Bad Decisions’ that we made” or “what’s your name, now?” in “Those Nights”), Bastille uses thought-provoking lyrics to address the task at hand, always. They’re captivating in their writing, and it makes them one of the most unique bands out there today.
Not every song is a winner on Doom Days, unfortunately, as I can’t quite bring myself to enjoy “4AM.” It’s a shame, as I never like encountering songs I don’t enjoy by my favorite bands, but something about its folky nature turns me off. I will say, going the Lumineers/Bon Iver route works for Bastille. Hell, they’ve dabbled in country and it still kicked ass. But personally, the folk stuff isn’t my cup of tea, and I have to count this track as a con in the grand scheme of things. Fortunately, this album is full of so many pro’s that it makes up for that minimal misstep. Whether it’s experimenting with synthesizers and saxophones as featured in “Those Nights,” or bringing in additional singers like BIM on “Joy” or the gospel singers from the Reorchestrated tour on “The Waves,” there are so many new and creative ideas that Bastille busted out for this album, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Lest we forget the legitimate rapping Smith does in “Another Place.” It’s unexpected and it’s phenomenal, much like the album it belongs to.
It is said that by a third album, fans know what they’re in for. The band has already established their presence and their sound, and soon after, innovation typically stagnates. Luckily, the same cannot be said about Bastille, a band that only gets better with each incarnation. Continuing their track record of flipping the script and giving the people what they didn’t even know they wanted, their “junior album” checks all the boxes it hoped to, and then some. While not every song is a certified banger, there’s enough fire here to set the world ablaze. Doom Days are here, indeed, and they are dangerously entertaining.
I would like to leave you now with the tweet I wrote, following my first run-through of the album.
“Over the course of 3 years or so, I’ve awaited the impending Doom Days. I remember the first time I heard they were going in a 90’s hip hop direction, and I got a little worried, I must admit. But at the end of the day, I knew Bastille would make this sound their own, and sure enough they did just that. While some songs have that OG Bad Blood feel and others continue those rockin’ Wild World vibes, it’s clear to see that Bastille went all in with this love letter to the 90’s, modern culture, and the lives we live in the darkness.
Doom Days does not disappoint with its unorthodox (for the band) 11-track listing, with every song delivering its own emotional gut punch that leaves you thinking critically and jamming ferociously. There’s an enormously good time to be had with this album, no matter how bleak it may seem. One thing’s for sure, though. These tunes will keep you singing at the top of your lungs for years to come. Doom Days is a triumph, and it proves that Bastille is unstoppable, 8 years in. Here’s to even more music, and bring on the concerts!”
Score: 4 out of 5