Sex With Strangers’ Discourse does not set a strong first impression, but there are moments of redemption.
The first two tracks, “Sand” and “Gift Of Fear” are drawn-out with repetitive choruses that are less like earworms and more like parasites. “Wave In The Clowns” is the first turning point of the album, demonstrating a complexity in composition and lyrics anticipated from a band on their sixth full album. The complexity in arrangement continues into “Forget What You Know” with lyrics like “You will discover in time / I’m not a lover with a solitary wish and that’s fine / Because I can’t have all of you.” “Forget What You Know” sets the theme of the album as deliriously romantic, exemplified in “Broken” and “Beth II.”
Discourse is nothing if not unpredictable. An example is “WTFK” which opens kind of chillwave or R&B before breaking into a standard post-punk riff and an “ooo na na” chorus, featuring a wild guitar solo by Cory Price at the halfway mark, and closing in a spacey fade out. As I write this review, I am still undecided as to whether this variety of sounds is intriguing, or just distracting. It is certainly not background noise.
The production of Sex With Strangers is tight, demonstrating producer Jason Corbett’s ability to capture SWS’s musical talent, but the album’s obvious mainstream appeal lacks the heart and quirkiness of SWS’s live performances. Hatch Benedict’s vocals are highlighted throughout, characteristic of a front person, but Shevaughn Ruley’s vocals, full and soulful live, are faint for most of the album.
This is a decent album in the combined genres of upbeat post-punk and new wave, characteristically danceable with the faintest glimmer of hard edge. That being said, Discourse in conversation with post-punk and new wave does not challenge the genres, but proves submissive to them in favour of the mainstream.