Though Hellogoodbye opened for Metric and Paramore during their fall tour, you'd be hard-pressed to find similarities between the headliners and today's Hellogoodbye. From electronic power-pop to California beach rock to synth-rampant shoegaze, the band has sped through plenty of stylistic changes since its formation back in 2001. While the group's latest album, "Everything Is Debatable," pushes away from its pop sensibilities a bit, it's a strong, intelligent release that holds its own against many other indie-pop acts on the market. It's also a great reminder that, if given the opportunity, young bands do grow up.
Rather than going the Miley Cyrus route of brazen and befuddling maturation, songwriter and vocalist Forrest Kline developed Hellogoodbye's vastly different sound in subtle shifts over the course of several years and several releases. After its first full-length, the successful and lengthy-titled "Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!" in 2006, Hellogoodbye released new music intermittently, often in the form of digital acoustic singles from Kline. These songs allowed listeners a hint to Hellogoodbye's direction, as full-band versions of several tracks were on "Would It Kill You?" in 2010. But for some, that upbeat, surf-rock comeback album differed too much from the music they remembered.
Whether consciously or not, "Everything Is Debatable" attempts to merge basic elements from Hellogoodbye's previous records while simultaneously returning to the electronic tones of "Zombies! ..." and the acoustic-led, coastal-indie of "Would It Kill You?" Pair those with current alternative music's trend toward the halcyon, low-fi pop of artists like Washed Out and Youth Lagoon, and you have a recipe for commercial success.
Or at least, that's the theory. This last component ends up being somewhat troublesome, as it can weigh down these otherwise easily ingested songs. A handful of tracks feature stylistic choices that, put simply, won't appeal to every person. These range from arbitrarily distorted vocals to immediate shifts between a drum set and dance beats. Likely the most divisive, the opening track, "And Everything Becomes a Blur," features an 8-bit-like intro that could just as frequently turn listeners away as invite them, which is certainly not the safest way to begin a record.
Thankfully, Kline's writing is brilliant throughout, more so than ever. Most songs are instantly singable, and heavy-handed recording touches are rare. The infectiously enjoyable and airy groove of "Just Don't Let Go Just Don't" belongs on the soundtrack to every John Hughes film of the '80s, while "Die Young, Die Dumb; Not Soon" should be the agreed-upon, buoyant and bittersweet anthem of teenage summers for now on. The second track, "(Everything Is) Debatable"—a sure stress-reliever peppered with pulsing synth pads that defy non-dancers everywhere—serves up similar doses of good vibes and is worthy of radio play.
Even when "Everything Is Debatable" winds down for the mandatory "slow jams," they're not the token tracks that plague most full-length records. "Swear You're in Love," though one of a trio of down-tempo songs, is energetic, charming and dynamic, allowing it to feel like a crucial point of the album rather than a momentum killer. The closer, "A Near Death Experience," and the horn-fueled "How Wrong I Can Be" don't fair quite as well as "Swear You're in Love," but they sound pleasant enough and don't lessen the overall experience, which is unfortunately the most you can expect from slow songs more often than not.
Hellogoodbye is at a strange juncture with its audience, one that most bands are fortunate enough to never face. Fans of Forrest Kline's early music may not have grown in the same direction that he has stylistically, and new listeners may hesitate to check out his latest based solely on what the band created in the past. Despite this disparate evolution, though, the basis of Hellogoodbye—smartly written, earnest pop music—remains wonderfully intact on "Everything Is Debatable." No matter your musical tastes, great melodies and catchy choruses are two things that no one should debate.