Shaed are a Washington DC-based trio who scored a massive hit two years ago with “Trampoline,” a song from their second EP that featured Zayn on the remix. The group is essentially an electronic-pop outfit, comprised of twin brothers Max and Spencer Ernst, the latter of whom is married to singer Chelsea Lee (a situation that certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, although the group has been together for a decade) and songs with sharp, smart, dramatic hooks.
They’d completed a debut album by the beginning of last year — “a collection of songs we had written on the road, mostly made with other songwriters under the pressure of creating the next ‘Trampoline,’” as they say in the press materials accompanying the album. But when the pandemic hit, the group took a clear-eyed look at the songs, decided they “didn’t feel genuine,” and started over.
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“High Dive” is the result — a pandemic album, although it doesn’t feel like one: Some songs are more moody and introspective than their previous material, but the hooks are just as strong, shaped and sharpened by the group with ace co-producers Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Vampire Weekend) and Josh Fountain (Benee).
The most striking and unexpected change here is the presence of strings on many songs, which gives the sound a variety and dimension that reaches far beyond their previous work — particularly on the closing “Six in the Morning,” which also shows what a powerful and nuanced singer Lee has become. The album starts off with four powerful pop songs, peaking with “Part Time Psycho,” which has a menacing refrain and a slightly deranged laugh on the hook, and the title track, which gets reprised at the end of the album as a duet with Lewis Del Mar. Later, there are disco flourishes on “I Know Nothing,” complete with a Daft Punk-esque arpeggio at the end; “No Other Way” channels the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll”; and “Trampoline,” complete with Zayn, makes a return appearance, but its presence feels almost corny in the context of the more sophisticated songs here.
It was a long time coming, but “High Dive” is a strong outing for the genre we used to call “intellipop” — and most importantly, it’s the album the group wanted to make.
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