This Kate Boy article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells
Three years isn’t an especially long period of time in most situations, but in the case of Kate Boy, three years feels enormous. The group’s debut single ‘Northern Lights’ felt right at home when it was released in 2012. The internet had been graced by a slew of Knife inspired synthpop bands; CHRVCHES, Purity Ring, and Nicki and the Dove were reinvigorating a much explored style with maximalist pop choruses and vivid synth textures.
Still, Kate Boy managed to stand out thanks to ‘Northern Lights’ sleek presentation and euphoric optimism. While their competition was eager to capitalise on early buzz, this Stockholm-based duo was taking a decidedly patient approach. Singer/lyricist Kate Akhurst and producer Marcus Dextegen took their time to hone a sound while their rivals became indie darlings. CHVRCHES’ debut record was rapturously received, and by the time ‘One’ arrived earlier this month, the Scottish outfit had solidified their position with another hit album. Three years later, Kate Boy’s debut has a lot to live up to.
Largely, the group deliver on their mission statement, with a uniform collection of pop bangers that hit the same peaks as ‘Northern Lights’ did in 2012. Opener ‘Midnight Sun’ is a bustling piece of electropop that feels both delicate in detail and grand in presentation. The chorus is majestic and immediate, while its hardnosed rhythmic backbone keeps the momentum at a giddy pace.
The rest of the album sticks to this sturdy formula: tight synth grooves and muscular choruses. These are simple pleasures without pretence, and when this formula hits successfully such as on the opener, it’s undeniable. Unfortunately, with eleven songs riffing on the same pattern, ‘One’ begins to drag.
This uniformity wouldn’t be as noticeable if it didn’t plague Kate Boy’s instrumentation. Many of the synth tones here refuse to deviate, and so songs begin to blend together in a vague mess. This isn’t helped by Kate Akhurst’s singing, which, while unquestionably emotive, bares an eerie similarity to the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson. Kate Boy could hardly be called derivative – their skill in constructing a commanding chorus is full of purpose – but the shadow of the Knife becomes overbearing and distracting through Akhurst’s theatrical delivery. Not just this, but the lack of diversity or complexity within Kate Boy’s writing is made even more disappointing given such an exciting influence.
Some songs do impress, such as ‘Human Engine’, which sets up an effervescent groove, and then has Akhurst build upon it with charismatic melody writing and an intoxicating mood. By its finish, it has morphed into a triumphant synth odyssey. Others, such as ‘Higher’ are universal in their passion. “We are Higher! We are Equal!”Atkurst declares at the chorus, over a rubbery synth line and rattling drums. It’s a simple sentiment, but is delivered with a captivating energy that commands attention.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing ‘One’ is that some of these songs, such as ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘Self Control’ were tired before they even made it onto the record. Their inclusion months after their initial release is frustrating, and doesn’t show Kate Boy to be progressing past their debut single. Still, brief moments of ecstasy make ‘One’ worth digging into, despite this lack of staying power.