Moving Units – Dangerous Dreams Review

A hotly tipped band combines post-punk influences such as Wire, Gang of Four, and early Cure with a strong pop element to become the toast of the underground. Sound familiar? From The Rapture to Hot Hot Heat to Radio 4, there is no shortage of bands mining the small offshoot of early 80’s punk (Gang of Fou’s Entertainment, the blueprint for this sound, was until recently available only as an import in the states)that is all the rage these days. There has been a steady buzz around Moving Units based off of the success of their strong self-titled e.p, a bright light on the otherwise fading funk-punk format the has already begun to tread water. Dangerous Dreams, the trio’s first full-length, finds the band trying to separate themselves from the dance-punk pack, but ultimately sounds like an album two years too late.

The album begins with “Emancipation,” which is comprised of a bouncy Johan Boegli bass line and angular guitar chords dropped in occasionally to create the sense that the party is about to begin, and sets up the album nicely. This is then followed by “Between Us and Them,” the bands big single. It is no surprise that this appears on the album as well as their e.p. A perfect amalgam of funk and punk bore from the genre’s best elements; it would be a stand out single during post-punk’s heyday or its current renaissance. It is hands down the band’s best track and the true reason for all of the potential that critics see with Moving Units. “Submission” is another song cut from the same cloth. Alternating between a rolling drum beat to melodic breakdown, it carries the same kinetic energy as “Between”¦”

Blake Mille’s vocals, ranging from Brian Eno to Julian Casablancas, are a very important focal point to the songs. The songs where he doesn’t sync well with, such as “available” and “birds of prey,” really suffer the music. There isn’t a track where there isn’t some sort of effect on his voice, which is either needless or pretentious, depending on your opinion of the album.

Lyrically, it can’t seem to decide between taut social commentary and playful banter. Just because the music evokes late 70’s/early 80’s imagery, however, doesn’t mean the lyrics have to either. “Everybody’s in the disco/everybody’s on the stereo” Blake sings on “Going for Adds,” rehashing the old ‘we will live forever” rhetoric found in any bad disco song or 80’s teen flick.
But the other end of the end of the spectrum isn’t appealing either. “Bricks and Mortar” finds Blake shouting out the empty sloganeering of “manifest destiny” and “viva revolution” in a drugged out drawl (covered in vocoder, or course), possibly mocking the entire purpose but it just makes your eyes roll. Gang of Fou’s great ability was that the lyrics could be taken at face value or seen as the progressive social commentary that it was. “Damaged Goods’ is as much a critique of sexual politics as it is about a failing relationship. It may be unfair to compare “Dangerous Dreams” to its influential stepfather, but its approach and goal were the same, and it unfortunately falls flat.

The problem with Dangerous Dreams is not the bands ability. Far from it. Chris Hathwell’s drumming on “Killer/Lover”carries the track, and displays his ability as the driving force of this record. It’s just the majority of the songs follow the dance-punk du jour recipe; a tight, jangly guitar riff, followed by a playful beat with a lot of high-hat and a bass melody driving the song. The songs that follow that pattern on this album are serviceable, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

The songs where they deviate from predictability, however, show the bands true promise. “Anyone” is built around a retro synth wash with a simple drum machine underscoring the boops and beeps of a classic Casio on the chorus. Imagine Depeche Mode remixing “Planet Rock.” “Scars” comes on with a slow escalating melody dripping in a reverb reserved for Interpol albums. Maintaining the drone, Boehgli and Hathwell dance around it, creating an interesting dynamic that is unlike any other song on the album.