Just so, but not quite. This is how indie pop-rock trio COIN characterizes its fifth album, Uncanny Valley. True to its definition of unease in the face of artificial humanity, this record materializes a barely recognizable human condition warped by the 21st century.
Following success from 2016 single “Talk Too Much” and 2019 indie favorite “Crash My Car,” COIN’s latest album is a departure from the band’s signature dance-pop sound. Lead vocalist Chase Lawrence, drummer Ryan Winnen and guitarist Joe Memmel mature into their rock era in a cacophony of heavy basslines and raspy hooks. Though rather overproduced at times, this intense new sound declares an even stronger commentary on the human experience, reflecting on the hyper-modern digitization of life and love.
Echoing the theme of disconcertion, the album’s cover art is a power outlet, with the outlet’s three prongs mimicking an expression of dismay. COIN’s band name and album title are noticeably absent, offering an honest, undistracted representation of the group’s most stylized record to date.
“Learning” pulls back the curtain on Uncanny Valley, concisely encapsulating the record’s core. This first track opens with reverberating distortions before giving way to Lawrence’s autotuned lines amid an anticipatory melody. He sings, “Maybe I’m more than zeroes and ones,” asserting the vulnerability this album crusades to protect from its digital downfall. This track is prime in its balance of opposites. One might expect cognitive dissonance from its heavily warped instrumentals counteracting its lyricism’s organic themes. Yet, what culminates is a humble and revealing embrace of humanity in a world where artificiality reigns.
Also successfully setting the album’s tone are singles “Brad Pitt,” “Chapstick,” “Cutie” and “I Think I Met You in a Dream,” a quartet that offers a well-balanced sample of the album. While “Chapstick” and “Brad Pitt” build reckless rock momentum, “Cutie” and “I Think I Met You in a Dream” mellow the tone with softer pop acoustics.
Synthetic sound effects leave no track on the album untouched, with distortions ranging from autotuned guitar riffs to voice warps dressing each song. Even the record’s slowest and most-stripped track “I Think I Met You in a Dream” opens with the automated greeting “Good morning, user” before snare drums kickstart a yearning melody. “The way you move is like a distant memory,” Lawrence sings, signaling the haziness of humanity in the uncanny valley. Intentionally robotic but achingly relatable, this album blends lyrics that scream organic desire with plasticity reminiscent of this digital generation.
Though this album seems to redefine COIN’s sound at first, “Blackbox” recalls the band’s older style with understated but compelling indie-pop interludes. Many of the song’s lines repeat in order to build a choir of dusky but poignant lullabies. “Blackbox” proves that while the band isn’t afraid to experiment with genre-bending electro-distortions, it stays far from unrecognizable transformation — true to the uncanny valley’s essence. The record is, thankfully, layered with tracks that are indisputably old-school COIN.
Regrettably, however, songs start to blend together after a while, shifting into a sonic distortion of epic proportions that cruelly undermines COIN’s otherwise stellar sound. If combined unease and retrospection are the goal of Uncanny Valley, the unfortunate result is something close to monotony.
The album’s message is clear, but perhaps overly so. The glaring explicitness of the digital theme emerges as its biggest burden, becoming redundant after the record’s first half. Voice warps and autotuned synths grow tedious as the album paints and repaints a tired sonic landscape. Undoubtedly, a lighter touch would have done the album far more justice.
Yet, standing out from the blurred masses is “Take The Stairs,” which marks the album’s most striking triumph. Each riff, bassline and verse is unexpected and relentlessly lively. The track pairs Lawrence’s raw vocals with dangerously coy trumpets and fingerstyle guitar, making it a jubilant revelry.
In spite of its overproduction, Uncanny Valley is deservedly COIN’s latest champion. Gritty, yearning and confidently sexy, this album offers an unsettling commentary on humanity in the age of digital love. Descend into the Uncanny Valley — you know you want to.
Contact Vicky Chong at [email protected].