Of all of the Scandinavian pop bands of the past fifteen years that should have caused waves on both sides of the Atlantic, Alphabeat's failure to make more than a ripple or two is the most inexplicable. This Danish sextet rocketed through the Danish charts with their first single "Fascination", a raucous, joyful blend of hand claps, syncopated pianos, woah-oh-ohs, and tagteam harmonies from lead vocalists Anders SG and Stine Bramsen. EMI quickly signed them for an international release, and constant radio play in 2008 and a fairly long series of touring dates throughout Europe primed the band for bigger success. Alphabeat's relentlessly upbeat, '80s-inspired music was a welcome counterpoint to the iciness of the pop charts at the time (see: La Roux, Robyn, Hot Chip). But after "Fascination" and the also-well-loved "10,000 Nights", their later singles bombed and a planned push into the U.S. never materialized.
So Alphabeat changed it up for their second album, pivoting to more of a '90s Europop influence and working with the renowned production team Xenomania. There was a *lot* of buzz online before leadoff single "The Spell" dropped, but despite a ridiculously catchy chorus much of what people loved about the band was missing: Anders barely appeared until the middle eight (and Autotuned, no less), the background synths could have shown up in any Berlin warehouse club in 1997, and the entire thing could have been a B-side off of a lost Ace of Base single. Alphabeat could have survived the disappointment from a large chunk of their fanbase, but followup "Hole in My Heart", while an improvement, doubled down on generic Europop (think Aqua) and still lacked the sparkle that permeated their debut album.
As as result, third single "DJ" barely made a splash in the charts. And it's a shame, because it's the best song on the record. DJ is a distillation of what dance-pop should be; it's a pastiche that more than holds its own against its influences. This is a fizzy bomb of sparkles, tambourines, skittering synths, record scratches, a ravey bridge and carefully repeated lyrics. When Stine comes in on the pre-chorus, telling the DJ "You're gone tomorrow but just let the music play", it's a command and a plea, and we're more than happy to follow her lead. "DJ" is a song built for looping, containing its own nostalgia for the best Eurodisco tracks of the previous decade, and hints at the kind of success Alphabeat should have achieved as dance-pop revitalists.
The music video for this single is a bit shit, but fortunately we have a fantastic live performance from the Danish X-Factor show, with Anders showing all of us how you *should* play the tambourine:
Also check out: I linked to "Fascination" earlier, but I'll repeat the recommendation here. This song quite literally stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it, and I think it'll do the same to you.
Alphabeat's members have gone their separate ways, but two members have teamed up as production duo THANKS; last year they released a single "I Can Get" that sounds like Justice if Justice were good.
Next up: This singer-songwriter drew acclaim and comparisons to Annie Lennox and Kate Bush, but heavy meddling from her label led to a yawner of a debut album—with one notable exception.