As a rule, “maturity” hasn’t set well with the legion of post-punk bands that made their debuts in the mid aughts. Acts like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and Arctic Monkeys have all struggled to various degrees with matters of voice and direction once they made it a couple of albums into their respective careers. The Futureheads look to buck that trend on their fourth record, The Chaos. Rather than attempting to overhaul their sound or incorporate new influences simply for the sake of doing so, the U.K. quartet makes the far-smarter decision to apply their trademark style to a more ambitious collection of songs and to more sophisticated arrangements.
From the opening bars of the title track, it’s immediately apparent that the band’s trademark angular, ferocious guitar riffs and aggro percussion lines remain the driving forces of their songs. Tracks like “This Is the Life” and “I Can Do That” are all forward momentum, throttling ahead at breakneck speeds. The reckless tempo actually works in the Futureheads’s favor, since it keeps their perfectly constructed hooks from overstaying their welcomes. Despite the overall heft of the sound on lead single “Struck Dumb,” there’s no getting around its marvelous pop structure. The song also highlights one of the band’s greatest strengths: their use of negative space. The slight pauses just before the song detonates into its chorus build anticipation to brilliant effect.
The Chaos also finds the band making excellent use of their four-part vocal harmonies. Performed in heavily accented Sunderland, England brogues, those harmonies are meticulously layered and only add to the overall sonic depth of the album. On “The Connector,” the band sounds like a punk-inflected version of Queen, while the cockeyed harmonies bring a level of structural sophistication to the fantastic “Heartbeat Song,” with its refrain of “Your heartbeat song/It’s good, but it’s not the one/You’re singing out of tune/But I still want to sing with you.”
That song is also representative of the album’s somewhat snarkier tone as compared to the band’s previous albums. The title track and “The Baron” have a good deal more bite than comparatively lighthearted singles like “Skip to the End,” and even would-be party anthem “Sun Goes Down” builds its hook around the idea of leading double life. By bringing at least a little bit of an edge and a more distinctive point of view to their songwriting, and by throwing themselves into their performances with real fearlessness, the Futureheads demonstrate meaningful growth here. They’ve never been the most famous of their contemporaries, but The Chaos suggests that they might just be the last post-punk band standing.