Fear Of Men displayed magnificent tension in buoyant bursts on its full-length debut, 2014’s Loom. The U.K. trio lifted Nico’s bashful elegance and turned it into sparkling, deeply heartbreaking indie pop. By contrast, follow-up Fall Forever feels more at ease, content and nearly reaching a comfortable emotional state, at least for most of the duration. “I’m like an island / I don’t need to feel your arms around me,” singer-guitarist Jessica Weiss states with graceful assurance above a pulsing bass at the head of “Island.” Halfway through closer “Onsra,” she calmly conveys the pull of a certain dichotomy, sounding mostly at ease with the resolution: “I don’t need you, but I want you so much.”
The band shouldn’t be castigated for such spiritual progression, but the trio certainly seemed to fire on a few more cylinders when injected with a dose of energy and more loosely delivered anguish. Loom had clear arcs and thrilling jumps in volume, pitch, and mood, while Fall Forever is far more level and serene, a smooth set of songs with its own demure course, even with newly cast shadows and dark corners. Second half leadoff “Ruins” is a slow burn with a cold drone, resembling the creak of a rusty door hinge, while “A Memory” offers a more upbeat, easygoing melody. Even the album’s most dynamic shifts come off as subtle and stop short of a full overwhelm, as on “Trauma”; it’s a standout nonetheless, with a mechanized hum, Oberheim DMX-sounding drum samples, prickly guitar lines, and Weiss determinedly weathering the incurable, emotional molasses from some life-shattering event or abuse. “Sane” is a heady, nearly five-minute-long journey at the penultimate point of the album, with a hook as pleading as Fear Of Men sounds right now (though the hook in “Undine” is always pleasurable, as is Weiss’ aching introduction of the song).
Again, it’s hard to knock Fall Forever for its thematic narrator welcoming solitude and achieving some sense of peace and acceptance and that mood being reflected in the tempo and dynamics of the content. The album soars and glitters with electronic spark and dream-pop ease, crafting fussy dystopias (“Sane”) and casting nifty metaphors (the aforementioned “Island”). “Trauma” sneakily rises to the top after repeated listens, while “Erase (Aubade)” provides pastoral reflection atop the rubble of an eroded relationship. The contrast of Weiss’ effortlessly sophisticated, crystalline vocals with the icier tone of the band’s newly electronic slant certainly gives Fall Forever special character. Fear Of Men hasn’t survived the sophomore turn without losing a few traces of what made the band so appealing initially, but then again, Weiss says it herself in “Erase (Aubade)”: “I erase these things / I don’t need what I left behind.”