Brooklyn’s Challenger are doing exactly what their name implies by playing around with the boundaries of genres. Their music redefines new wave, electronica, indie, synthpop and even punk to a certain degree by being all of those things and also none of those things. If anything, you could call Challenger’s frontman, songwriter and producer John Ross a chemist of sorts, extracting influences from a variety of sounds he admires to create something that makes people listen and react to his music—something that Challenger have continued to do with sophomore album Back To Bellevue.
Though album opener “Back To Bellevue” sets you up for a jangly synthpop record, which Back To Bellevue definitely is at some points, there’s a lot of other stuff going on here, too. There’s a hint of punk attitude in the short monologue at the beginning of “Birthday At Beth Israel” and some Depeche Mode-esque hooks here and there, like in “Sweetheart In San Francisco,” but the amazing thing is that the band creates really smart-sounding tracks unique to them in spite of their influences. For instance, “Science Of A Seizure” is oddly disturbing and physical, starting off with a succession of sharp beats that resemble the moment an epileptic fit begins. Then, Challenger take that base theme and weave it throughout the song, establishing psychological unity thematically by fleshing out the science of a seizure musically.
The end of the record throws you for a bit of a loop, but it’s not unpleasant. The last block of songs range from ambient to a track that sounds like Passion Pit and New Order’s love child to an acoustic ballad. It’s weird, especially when final track “Sorry” refers back to the pure synths and pulsating drumbeats of the record’s beginning—maybe the song is thinly-veiled apology for Back To Bellevue’s strange closing? Either way, the tracks are still pleasing to the ear.
Back To Bellevue is a fun listen because it’s something modern that references all the ’80s music you know and love. At the same time, it’s clearly the new new wave—Challenger are on to something, and I like the direction they’re taking it in.
In A Word: Charismatic