Eight years ago, the band Black Kids seemed to be the next big thing. What started with an extremely successful EP that gathered the approval of Rolling Stone, BBC, and, surprisingly, Pitchfork, led onto a well-performing debut album, Partie Traumatic, which, despite not pleasing the critics was received well by the public. The eight years of silence since were a surprise to most, as in some way, Black Kids had contributed to the definition of a subgenre, indie electropop. With its jumpy tunes and witty lyrics, Black Kids had pledged to lead an emerging scene.
That promise was clearly left unfulfilled. Only almost a decade later, the five-piece band from Florida self-released its second full-length on Bandcamp. The new album, Rookie, includes 10 songs, and a cover featuring the now-relevant-again-by-the-force-of-the-Internet “cool S.” It is an unpretentious ode to youth and inexperience, delivered through Black Kids’ still-distinctive sound and candid aesthetic.
The opener, “IFFY,” is a good turn on the band’s usual style. Despite its extremely repetitive and cheesy lyrics, something arguably constant through all of Rookie, the song is a solid, addictive tune one can definitely imagine dancing to in a party. Half-way through the album, “Rookie” also follows the Partie Traumatic handbook, yet not straying away from it enough to make the song relevant. Moreover, “Rookie” proves Black Kids did not learn a lot from their debut album. As in many songs from Partie Traumatic, Reggie Youngblood’s vocals seem often out of place, and the overall sound is somewhat awkward at times.
The rest of the songs, however, seem to explore different directions than the band’s first work, some of them clearly gathering inspiration from the early moments of the genre. “In A Song” is a pleasing song that features The Smiths-like echoed vocals, and a general atmosphere that reminds one of the original moments of indie pop. It is a feel-good piece with a complex sound, relative to Black Kids’ usual work. The lyrics are simple and sincere (“I hate to tell you in a song that I love you”), and in this case, they are good enough. Similarly, “If My Heart Is Broken,” presents an old-style bass line and an ’80s synth, which would make for a remarkable try in the direction of melancholic pop if it was not for Youngblood’s awkward vocals. Despite this, Youngblood’s distinctive voice does shine in other moments, such as the closing song, “Way Into Leather,” which features low-key vocals that remind one of The Velvet Underground and are joined by upbeat synths, a dry guitar, and a subtle instrumentation.
Rookie does not fall short of experimentation. In “Natural Born Kissers,” Black Kids seem to dive into something almost exclusive in electronic music—it is an almost instrumental track, with the only lyrics being, “Thinking about your love, thinking about your kisses.” The phrase is repeated over and over, backed by an electropop number. Even if it does not result in a particularly remarkable song, Black Kids’ attempt at innovation is laudable. “Obligatory Drugs” follows the same path.
“V-Card (Not Nuthin’)” and “Illin’” present fresh sounds, and make up for the more solid part of Rookie. The lyrics for the first one are undeniably witty: “I want my first time to be / with someone who loved me / I want the second one, for fun / To be for lost, just because / I want the third time to be for money / And the fourth, it should be for fame / I want the fifth time to be a baptism / In his name.” In this same path, “All The Emotions” emerges as the best track in the album. It is an upbeat song about falling in love for the first time, about being a rookie in love. It is a brilliant tribute to innocence, a cheerful track with sincere lyrics and a catchy sound.
Black Kids’ second album is a combination of old tricks and clever experimentation. At times, the sound is repetitive, and the vocals still sound a bit out of place as in the band’s debut album. In most of Rookie, Black Kids manages to produce a fresh and complex sound, a solid album about taking the first steps in love.
Featured Image By Chase Park Transduction