Over the past couple years, Swedish progressive house duo Galantis have made a considerable mark on the EDM world. “Runaway (U & I)” and “You” will likely be etched into the collective memory of anyone who attended a music festival during 2014, and their surrealistic seafox trademarks represent the enchanted melodies prevalent in their music well. However, when the time finally arose for them to release a debut album, we were hoping that they would have pushed their creative limits a little further.
Don’t get us wrong, Christian “Bloodshy” Karlsson and Linus Eklöw are fantastic producers, and the tracks on Pharmacy are not poorly done by any means – it’s just that very few of the new ones are all that memorable. Where the two aforementioned songs featured unique use of vocal sample pitch bending among other production experimentations that made them more than just a couple progressive house tracks, the majority of their debut effort exhibits the same sound throughout. The result is a musically monochromatic collection of tracks that doesn’t do justice to the duo’s talent.
“Forever Tonight” sets the tone for the rest of the album from the start. A risklessly upbeat, housey lead builds up to trance synth stacks accompanied by euphoric female vocals that guide the ear more than any other element. “Gold Dust” makes for a slight improvement with its powerful lyrics and moving melody, but it still sounds like little more than a run-of-the-mill EDM pop song.
By the third track, “In My Head,” I was legitimately concerned that I’d run out of things to say about the album because it sounds so much like the first. Female vocal, four-four beat, big synths, repeat. It makes us wonder why artists who possess such obvious musical talent resign themselves to such a vanilla approach; we’d love to see what these production values would sound like when applied to something more challenging.
The aforementioned “Runaway” is next, and we really shouldn’t be as thankful as we are to see familiar territory. Make no mistake, this track had as much mass appeal working for it as anything out there, but its unusual key changes from verse to chorus to bridge made it a little easier for a jaded music fan to swallow. The vocal track twists up into a high-pitched, cortex-stimulating melody that makes the experience of the song its own strange sort of fantasy.
“Dancin to the Sound of a Broken Heart” actually retains some of the more interesting vocal sampling elements of the song that came before it and supports them with melancholy chord progressions, but other than that it’s more of the same from before. “Louder Harder Better” is ironically not a single one of those things – the synth lead is kind of cool, but that’s it. “Kill Em with the Love” breaks the mold slightly by being more of a pop song than an EDM track, but the lazy lyrics keep it from succeeding as such.
Track 8, “Call if You Need Me” might as well just be “Call On Me” by Eric Prydz – at least he’s got the good sense to be embarrassed of that phase in his career. Its single redeeming quality is the steel drum-like synths that guide its melody, but only because they’re not as trite as every other part of the song. “Peanut Butter Jelly” is a pretty cool track, actually, and this isn’t the first time we’ve said it. The unexpected fusion between funk/disco instrumentals, soulful vocals and – believe it or not – hip-hop air horns results in something that measures up to their earlier releases.
We’re not really sure why, but there’s something about “Firebird” that makes it the strongest new track on the album. When we really analyze it, it’s just as cheesy and formulaic as the rest of the filler on the album, but there’s something about it that just works. It makes you feel the celebratory longing that anthemic progressive house tracks are supposed to, and has an undeniable playback value to it. “Don’t Care” has a pretty strong synth lead that makes it slightly more memorable as well, but not quite as much so.
The second-to-last track is “You,” the other strong song from 2014 that helped establish Galantis in a big way. With many of the same sound design elements as “Runaway” but applied differently, it makes you wonder if the duo could have stuck to this method and put together an album whose sound uniquely belonged to them, even if its tracks would be equally similar to one another. The 13th and final song, “Water,” leaves the album on a lackluster note. The vocals are memorable in a bad way, like nails on a chalkboard, and the progression leaves much to be desired.
The best thing that we can say about the songs on this album are that they’re not flat-out botched. As we said before, Galantis are great producers and have put out a professionally executed album – it’s just that after their 2014 releases, we were anticipating something spectacular. The duo discussed making the songwriting and lyrics a priority for Pharmacy, but given the strength of their earlier releases, we would assert that they should focus on the compositions themselves. Either way, we’re not gonna boycott them just because of their debut album, and we look forward to their releases in the years to follow.
Galantis may have set our expectations a little too high with their 2014 releases, because even though Pharmacy is full of quality production values, most of the songs seem to lack originality.