Eighties revivalists Death in the Afternoon may look like hipsters referencing a decade they weren’t conceived in, but there’s more going on to this Swedish four-piece than meets the eye. While their strongest influence is VHS-era synthesizer scores, they also flaunt a strong sense of humour, with lyrics written to be as self-absorbed as possible, and production that flips from Nineties home studio software to modern EDM techniques. Both lampooning and carrying forward the fad for retro electronica, Kino is a fun ride, doing to A-Ha and the Pet Shop Boys what Flight of the Conchords did for the White Stripes, only doing it with more subtlety.
Kino’s ability to replicate the electro-pop highs of the Eighties is uncanny, and has already earned them airtime on MTV, even though they may be happier being featured on VH1 Classic). The album reaches into every electronic corner of the decade, with ‘Fandango’s harsh, stabbing brass synths playing like a game show jingle with attitude. ‘Frances & The City’ edges the record into the Nineties with its Eurocheese synths and Commodore Amiga music, but the likes of 'Spain' pull it back - dreamy electric disco, think Alphaville’s 'Forever Young' without the prom connotations. “You said/That we’ve got nothing left to do/In bed”, sings Albun Bengtsson in his best Jonathan Pierce of The Drums impression. It’s one of the record’s less egocentric couplets, which include tongue-in-cheek jewels like “This city wants to hurt me/This city wants to play” and “None of your friends really get it/The thing is I’m not really shallow/I’m tired of facing the gallows”.
However, the quality of songwriting on Kino soon levels out, and at 37 minutes the album feels too long to be the tight collection of hits it purports to be. The nostalgic Drive soundtrack worked so well because it was five florid disco tracks offset with an hour of instrumental film music - Kino lacks that variety, and its constant attempts to out-groove every existing Eighties compilation can start to grate. ‘Tricks’s attempt at a slow number - low, strutting synthesizers over which Bengstsson sings falsetto, like Bronski Beat - is downbeat but no less relentless in its attempt to engulf you in blinding neon, while ‘Lions’ loses its way with a feeble guitar solo that makes the clicking drum machine/two-note pads sound unadventurous. But Death in the Afternoon rediscover their energy, and get as close as they can to a departure from the Eighties with ‘J(L)G’, an interlude made of crackly piano chords, and ‘Natalya’, a feisty variation on ‘Chopsticks’ whose toned-down, reverberating digital drums gently remind us why this decade is still popular. Purely as a firework display of Casio synthesizers, Kino hits the spot, and despite its fumblings is never afraid to poke fun at itself.
6George Bass's Score