There are few things that are more noticeable in music than mood. While more academic listeners will surely approach with structure and tonality in mind, it’s not the basic human experience. Untrained ears aren’t equipped to dissect a song. Few of us desire to do so, lest the magic disappear in place of a cold sense of knowledge and understanding. While many albums rely on mastery of atmosphere, there is something to be said for those that create a strict sort of tension without growing exhausting or overwrought. On the amusingly named Optimist, the third album by Dutch rock group GOLD, this endlessly exhilarating tension is the dominant sensation.
Walking the possibly imaginary line between post-punk, rock, and heavy metal like a tightrope, GOLD leads in with “You Too Must Die,” a song that balances a forceful bass riff with a droning vocal line that drives in the title. It feels like a steady build, but the end result is merely a tapering of the very elements that should’ve resolved somehow. The satisfaction in wanting more is its own delight on this and almost every other song on the album. One may expect an explosive blast of catharsis in the form of over the top distortion, screaming, or even a major shift in sound, but it simply doesn’t come. Instead, songs like “I Do My Own Stunts” sway back and forth ever-so chaotically within a narrow pocket of unease, driven by steady yet fluid drumming while “Summer Thunder” feels as though it ends in the middle of a line. It’s an in-between that is both thrilling and uncomfortable.
In this place of uncertainty, GOLD conjures imagery that is stirring (yet not disturbing) over a sound that is oddly soothing. It’s hard to imagine that something so theoretically balanced is so close to boiling over in its actuality, yet it’s teeming in the most unexpected moments. The most painful feeling on the album comes in the midst of its sparsest song, “Teenage Lust.” It’s possibly the only song where there is a major build towards a sonic change and yet it’s the barest of all. The sheer weight of it all is almost too much, possibly why GOLD spends so much time in a place of terse, mindful control, like some sort of stone-faced conductor guiding the audience ever onward. If the whole album were as open, it could almost become too much, or at the least it would diminish the impact of this unexpected mid-album peak.
GOLD’s songs stand stronger for the band’s rigid commitment to sitting in such a challenging place, yet some audiences might feel put off by this. What does a band owe its audience? Does ground need to be broken? Do songs need to flow into some sort of great relief? We all have our own answers to these questions, of course. On Optimist, it’s evident that these experienced and talented musicians came to the conclusion that the greatest reward of all is to leave the listener constantly wanting just a small amount more.
PR for this album was handled by Earsplit PR.