The Golden Filter’s debut album, Voluspa, is a confident one. Even though the pieces don’t always add up, there’s a sense that this is a band that knows where it wants to go. Singer Penelope Trappes and producer Stephen Hindman have already honed in on the core elements of their sound, which draws together rock-disco beats, high-pitched synth arpeggios, theatrical violin, and the odd mystical reference. Working these sounds within a sketchy framework of references to Iceland’s Poetic Edda and Story of the Eye, among other esoteric miscellany, gives the album a feeling of consistency that initially masks the varying quality of individual tracks.
Predictable without making the listener feel dumb, Voluspa gets into trouble when it tries to go deep or lets too much ride on the vocals. The longest cut on the album (apart from the pointless ambient meander and album closer “Here We Go Again”) is “Stardust,” and it offends on both fronts. The track’s dancefloor-as-cosmos conceit is tired enough without Trappe’s breathy voice trying to pull off lines like “Stardust in my eyes, bright lights beyond the sky / Look at the cat eyes, black lights electrified.” The thinness of Trappe’s voice seems unsuited to delivering both words and their meanings at the same time, and is better presented when it’s bolstered by other sounds, whether it’s the shiny synth chords on single “Solid Gold”’s chorus or backed by her own wordless vocalizations. This is a problem throughout the album: uniformly good production can’t always compensate for bad delivery, supplying lyrics with weight they can’t deliver on their own. A few tracks are big winners — ”Solid Gold,” “Frejya’s Ghost,” “Thunderbird” — but these are the uptempo, hyper-detailed cuts from an album that spends a fair amount of time in the lower BPMs.
There’s a gap between canny PR and what a band can actually do. Despite its packaging, Voluspa is a home-listening electro-pop record for people who talk about dancing more than they actually dance. And the band, as a professional unit that is fitfully good at what they do, unfortunately wastes too much time playing to their weaknesses to make Voluspa a front-to-back solid pop record, to say nothing of its occult dabblings. The Golden Filter would be well served to take its own lightness more seriously than it takes its seriousness. “Frejya’s Ghost” is the album’s most solid jam, with a flurry of vocal harmonies and an ascending synth figure adding to the song’s constant build, yet remaining somehow static and ornamental. It’s overstuffed and wasteful, its emotions too tightly wound to really qualify as club music, but only more convincing in this respect — a touch of amateurishness that alleviates the competence of everything else surrounding it.