Album Review: War Beats // DEF NEON

DEF NEON are back with War Beats, four years after the release of their self-titled debut in 2016. The North Wales based duo, consisting of vocalist and bassist Emily Gresham and producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Harmina, have fought against categorisation since their debut, describing themselves in a borderline oxymoronic fashion as “Daft Punk meets Siouxsie Sioux”.

The new album was supported by three singles, ‘Just Do It,’ released back in October 2019, ‘Sparks,’ released in December 2019, and ‘Kid,’ released in October this year.

Opener ‘Just Do It’ is a dubstep infused banger that introduces us to the incredibly clean production present throughout. The smooth yet crashing synths are somewhat dissonant with their vocalist’s punk-like passion, but it works and is one of the most memorable parts of the album.

The record’s second single, ‘Sparks,’ is a change of pace when compared to the abrupt, sudden nature of some of the other tracks. The synths here are smooth and uplifting, and vocals and instrumental are married flawlessly with Gresham’s calls to “keep on fighting”.

‘Keep On Don’t Stop’ stands out as a unique cut, combining so many genres into one track: clear elements of disco and dubstep, but also synth-pop and punk. It’s a testament to DEF NEON’s versatility in their sound that they can be grouped into synth-pop and punk music without sharing any similarities with the obvious New Order. Instead, DEF NEON takes far more from contemporary revival of synth-pop: occasionally, the production resembles Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, but with vocal performances more like something from IDLES’ recent album than radio pop.

It is on the album’s closer, ‘Fight Fight Fight,’ that the comparison with Siouxsie is most notable, with Gresham’s dramatic cries echoing over the shimmering and pounding synths. Her passion must be well-suited to live performance – DEF NEON have appeared at numerous festivals and gigs across the UK – which makes the current climate a little disappointing, as it would have been a pleasure to hear tracks like this in a crowd setting.

On the whole, DEF NEON’s War Beats is a funky, punky synth-pop album that stands out from contemporaries with intense vocals and production. Gresham and Harmina have expanded on the sound of their self-titled debut, bringing a similar yet improved sound on some tracks, and an entirely new direction on others. They’ve brought their own signature blend of genres together; drawn on every genre of UK dance music imaginable, combined that with punk then cleaned it up for 2020. A must-listen.

War Beats is out today (27th November) via AnalogueTrash.

Words by Jack Oxford

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