Young Swedish punks Holograms have picked up more attention from the hip magazines and blogs than other punk bands, and as such spend a lot of time being compared to earlier groups by Internet commentators. Joy Division, New Order and Killing Joke have all been mentioned; indeed, I'd say the start of album opener "Monolith" bears resemblance to "No More" by Black Flag. However, it doesn't really matter, because Holograms are excellent.
There are many highlights throughout the album. The aforementioned "Monolith" takes some time to build up before exploding into life: a dramatic mass of thick bass, gigantic drums, driving Ramones guitar and swirling synths, with phrases like "primal figures" and "cryptogliphic rituals" and a thrilling chorus ("PEOPLE! PLACES!") sung in a booming voice with a fantastic Scandinavian lilt. It's utterly fantastic. "Chasing My Mind" follows "Monolith" and is a very different tune, a delightful pop-punk number led by a simple, high pitched synth line. There are more equally fantastic tracks further on, such as the cutting and catchy "ABC City," with yet more simple but effective synthesizer work and a very basic, blank feel reminiscent of "Pink Flag" by Wire, and the rather more grandiose "You Are Ancient (Sweden's Pride)," a song so triumphant it makes me feel patriotic, in spite of the fact I don't actually live in Sweden.
"Sweden's Pride," by the way, may be satirical, which brings me to the topic of the lyrics. (I'm hopefully not going to do a Pitchfork and completely misunderstand them here.) They deal largely with isolation, depression, exhaustion and the general feeling of being integrated into the heavily industrialized society that urban Sweden, by Holograms' account, is. Even the chorus of "Sweden's Pride," either patriotism or piss-taking, makes mention of "hearts of stone" that "long for the summer."
There are also fascist hints in the songs, with "Monolith" proclaiming "ORDER!" for instance. This could lead to some comparisons with the Nazi flirtations of Iceage, but Holograms don't appear to be a fascist band; their lyrics of order and hard industrial work are far from celebratory. One of the many dreadful things about fascism is that it seeks to destroy individuality and makes people cogs in a massive, powerful machine. Holograms suggest that becoming a cog and undertaking the heavy, mechanical labor fascism romanticizes is bad; through their clashing of fascist slogans and "take this job and shove it" mentality, they appear, at least, to be an anti-fascist group. I'll stop now.
The problem with the album, for me, is that the rest of it doesn't sound half as vital and grabbing as the highlights. At first, the tracks between my favorites shot past in a great whoosh of gloomy post-punk okay-ness, but some ("Stress," "Orpheo," "Fever," the Gang of Four-like "Apostate") begin to stand out from the rest after some time. No song is bad, the tracking has a good flow to it, and in time perhaps I'll appreciate these songs more, but the album is still an uneven affair.
However, this did come out some time ago now, and the band's new single, "Flesh and Bone" is a big step forward for them. Though it's far from perfect, this album's a blasted good start from a very promising band.