Photo Credit: COIN via Facebook
While the pandemic was a time of pause and reflection for most musicians, it marked the most productive moment for Tennessee-based COIN, which has released a steady stream of music across the last two years. Now, on their third album, the band who broke out in 2016 with the song “Talk Too Much”, attempts to reconcile conflicting desires: escapism and grounded reflection. On Uncanny Valley, the band proves far better at the former than the latter.
Uncanny Valley is at its best when the stakes are low and the mood is light. The best track here, “Chapstick” is borderline nonsensical (“She’s a friend of mine, and an apple pie // And a sharpshooter, I’m in overtime”) but benefits from a retro Britpop sound that makes the ridiculousness of it all sound charming, and it does a remarkable job at re-creating the euphoric highs of ’90s Britpop. “Cutie”, meanwhile, manages to pack in even more head-scratching lyrics but packs in enough killer hooks and an anthemic chorus that makes its shortcomings seem beside the point.
COIN trips up when trying to confront heavier themes. The opener “Learning” tries to make a statement about humanity in the technology age but ultimately retreads old ground. “I’m more than zeros and ones,” declares lead vocalist Chase Lawrence, over a monotonous layer of autotune seemingly intended to contrast authenticity and digital distortion. It’s an admirable attempt, but it’s hard not to compare it to those who have done it better – like St. Vincent, who made a similar declaration on 2014’s “Huey Newton” (“Entombed in the land of zeros and ones”) but did so over much heavier distortion and guitar, making her message sound genuinely frightening, rather than insipid as it does here.
“Blackbox” similarly attempts to deliver a message of sincerity and authenticity, but trips over itself even more frequently, giving way to a seemingly endless tirade of cliches that ultimately culminates in a cry of “It’s the real-life me.” “Take The Stairs” is similarly hamfisted – with Lawrence delivering lines like “If the lift is broke, take the stairs,” without a hint of irony – but has the sort-of stomping chorus that makes its faults seem secondary. Uncanny Valley then, if far from the comprehensive statement of the modern age it seeks to be, is an album that in its best moments perfects the pop formula so well, that all its faults suddenly seem unimportant.