Rounding off an incredibly successful year which saw the London quartet score Best Breakthrough at the BRIT Awards and see sales of their debut album soar past the $2m mark, Bastille have returned with gusto with the third installment of their mixtape series, VS: Other People’s Heart Ache Pt. III.
Probably intended as a stop-gap to keep over-eager fans at bay while they work on the follow-up LP to the award-winning Bad Blood, this latest mixtape is a surprisingly good album in its own right, offering a fresh and experimental take on Bastille’s mixtape concept. Featuring a spectacular range of covers and collaborations with artists as varied as Haim, Angel Haze, and The Gemma Sharples Quartet, VS. incorporates an impressive diversity of musical styles guaranteed to satisfy those with quirkier music tastes and more mainstream Bastille fans alike. All the tracks retain an excellent balance between Bastille and their collaborators, and the addition of smaller artists like Tyde, Rationale, and Angel Haze definitely adds a creative edge to the music, helping to break-up the overly same-y synth sounds that, at times, overwhelm the album.
One of my favourite tracks on the album is Bite Down, a collaboration which sees Bastille’s Dan Smith share spectral vocals with sisterly trio, Haim. The track is everything you would expect a pairing of such talented artists to be; an extremely catchy and fun listen, yet I couldn’t help feeling that it could have been so much more. A Bastille-Haim collaboration was never going to sound bad, but it would have been nice for them to push the boundaries a little more and produce something that exceeds, rather than just meets, our expectations. While I very much enjoyed the end result, I was disappointed that Haim’s wonderful voices were at times overshadowed by the somewhat overpowering electronic effects in the song, which ultimately left the track feeling a little flat and repetitive, lacking the passion or originality that would place it in the same league as classic Bastille hits such as Pompeii or Flaws.
A high point of this album is The Driver, Bastille’s only solo-piece on the mixtape. Created for Radio 1’s remake of Drive Soundtrack, the song is wonderfully typical of Bastille’s grandiose sound, blending sad guitar riffs and fabulously melodramatic synths to great effect. On an album bursting at the seams with collaborations and mash-ups, it’s refreshing to hear a bit of Bastille doing what they do best without any unnecessary rapping getting in the way. A characterful song that grows on you the more you listen to it, The Driver has a gripping, energetic rhythm that breaks up the somewhat repetitive sound of the rest of the album. If this is a sneaky preview of what we can expect from Bastille’s next LP, then we are certainly in for a treat.
The album’s concluding track is a fabulous collaboration between Bastille, Rag N Bone Man, and Skunk Anansie and is a triumphant finale to what is, at times, a pretty boring album. By far the most emotive and passionate song on the album, Remains is my standout track. A moody power ballad, it gains momentum as it progresses through the distinct, yet complimentary styles of its three artists, with Dan Smith’s husky vocals transitioning seamlessly to the bluesy brooding tones of Rag N Bone Man and in turn, onto the poignantly sweet Skunk Anansie. Strikingly, this is one of the only songs on the album with an instrumental rather than an electronic style and it certainly provides an extremely welcome break from the techno overload. Beautiful, simple, and emotive, this track provides substance and emotion on what is, overall, a somewhat bland and same-y album.
In this album, Bastille rely heavily on DJ techniques and techno embellishments, presumably to distinguish this more experimental style from the instrumental sound of Bad Blood. For me, this dependence on effects has detracted from the exciting potential of the collaborations, causing the vocals to get lost at times in a sea of wailing, reverb-heavy synth. The overall effect is often insipid, repetitive, and uninspiring. While the stand-out tracks do make this album worth sticking with, I must admit I’m disappointed that Bastille didn’t make more of the wonderfully rich variety of musical style and colour available to them, but instead choosing to drown everything in techno sameyness. Ultimately, a little underwhelming.