It’s fitting that the first song on Cold Beat’s newest album, Chaos By Invitation, sounds like no other song the band has made before. “In Motion” is a long, spacious synth ballad that has a feeling of infinity to it — listening to it makes me feel like I’m alone on a boat in the middle of the ocean, looking at an endless horizon. There is an ambiguity in the track that has become one of the hallmarks of Cold Beat’s sound. On one hand, it sounds peaceful and relaxing to be in the ocean, but it’s also frightening to be solitary in a vast expanse.
This is only the third album for the Hannah Lew project, but it has already grown and evolved in ways that few artists do in their entire careers. “In Motion” is a strategic choice as the opening track, because it officially signifies the shift hinted at on their previous album, Into the Air, which started out as familiar guitar-driven rock before ascending into synth-pop territory halfway through. Chaos By Invitation focuses heavily on those synths, and it becomes primarily a solo vehicle for Lew, who recorded it with less collaboration than their previous albums.
The more solo nature of the album and the restriction to mostly synths would seem to imply a more narrow and claustrophobic sound. “In Motion” proves that wrong right out of the gate, and the rest of the album continues to showcase Lew’s ability as a diverse and creative songwriter who is emboldened by working with different resources than she has in the past. “Thin Ice” and “Don’t Touch” are more classic Cold Beat tracks with a spikier sound and anxious lyrics, but then there is “62 Moons,” another dreamier track with evocative lyrics about a relationship that ends with a “fade to black.”
With fewer collaborators, Lew’s singing stands out more on this album than it has in the past. She sings in almost a classical or operatic way, but adapts her voice to the different styles on the album. She reaches a more high-pitched coo on “False Alarm,” which sounds vaguely like a Grimes/Simple Minds collaboration, but she sounds more like an android on a dense electronic track like “Black Licorice.” One of the last songs on the album, “Strawberry Moon,” is like a synthed up version of a classic c86 pop song, and Lew’s voice fits snugly into its upbeat dreamy vibe.
What I most appreciate about Cold Beat is what makes them one of the trickier bands to write about: nothing about their music is obvious. The style they play is difficult to describe in buzzy genre words (electronic-synth-goth-punk-pop?) and Lew’s lyrics, while not being completely cryptic, don’t really lend themselves to the type of easy interpretations that are the bread-and-butter of music blogging. The only obvious parts are how the band changes with every release and how much thought is put into every part of the album, from the construction of the songs to the sequencing. Lew’s project is a model for what rock music should be, and the success of Chaos by Invitation reflects her continued growth and evolution as a songwriter.