One of the most obvious things you’ll notice when listening to Altogether is that it’s clear the band is trying to experiment with their sound. What’s even more clear is that they’re in over their heads. I feel misled — the four singles released prior to the album all pointed to a very clear, cohesive album that was well within Turnover’s wheelhouse, yet one that still further refined their sound. The singles indicated that we would be back to Turnover’s dream pop sound, but this time in a colder, slightly darker fashion. There are elements of Altogether that indicate that this is the case, but the core of the album is a forced attempt at innovation that drags the album to a grinding halt.
The thing that makes this album so frustrating is that it contains some of Turnover’s best work to date. Songs like “Still in Motion,” “Much After Feeling” and “Parties” feel like the album I wanted Turnover to make: dark and cold, but in a dream-like fashion. “Still in Motion” in particular stands out as a successful attempt at experimentation, with its low-fi intro precluding the American Football-esque groove that follows.
Turnover’s ability to create their own sound with each album is part of what sets them apart from other indie bands. They’re masters at establishing specific motifs within their sound, and each song typically fits into this idea. Turnover establishes their sound through the first four songs, but then tosses it out the door with “Sending Me Right Back.” It’s not to say that this is a bad song per se, it’s just that tropical bongo drums stick out from the texture like a sore thumb. They then follow this track up with “Ceramic Sky,” a track most notable for containing a saxophone feature that sounds disturbingly close to elevator music. These two songs together sound like they’re trying to force their own innovation, like they were created to show their own musicianship and then shoehorned into the album to prove a point. These two tracks rob Altogether of the momentum it had built throughout the previous tracks, and it never fully recovers. The tempo stays slow throughout the rest of the project. I’d imagine that this is done to convey the feeling of being too high — drug use has been a continuous motif throughout Turnover’s discography, to the point where they named an EP after a strain of weed — but honestly, it just makes the album sleepy, which I suppose also occurs when you get too high.
Even on the more “innovative” songs, Turnover’s sound is significantly more full than it has been in the past. They explore so many new instruments and ideas, and most of them feel like such a good match for their music that it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t there before (with the exception of the aforementioned bongo drums and saxophone). Their frequent use of synthesizers and keyboards stands out, helping to layer their sound and giving it a far richer texture than they could achieve on their own as a trio. This is important; it’s their first album without former guitarist Eric Soucy, who parted ways with the band following allegations of emotional abuse but was one of the drivers of their shift from pop punk to dream pop.
Lyrically, this is Turnover’s best record to date. They’ve always excelled at giving you colorful, intricate guitar patterns, but this time they have the lyrics to match. Lyrics like “I want to stay out / But when you’re gone / I miss the heat always being on” provide such a vivid description of the uniqueness of missing someone in the winter, which perfectly matches the airy, sparkling guitar patterns in the back.
One of the challenges of writing a genuine review of one of your favorite bands is separating your expectations for the project from what was actually released. I’ve been hard on Altogether, but only because their past two and a half releases — 2017’s Good Nature, 2015’s Peripheral Vision and 2014’s Blue Dream EP — were nearly flawless, creating a unique sound for each project and then expanding on it with each track. Peripheral Vision changed the way I listen to music, and is an album I will fight for in The Sun’s forthcoming 100 Albums of the Decade list, so it’s safe to say I might have had unreasonably high expectations for this project. I still don’t think they’ve made a bad song yet, I’m just not sure if this was the best direction for Turnover to take. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more with time. Maybe if they had released the project I thought I had wanted, I would’ve thought they had stagnated. Either way, this is an album to digest, and one that I’ll be unpacking over the coming months.
Daniel Moran is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as the assistant arts and entertainment editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at [email protected]