If there’s one band I’ve been more evangelistic about over the past year, it’s got to be Kids of 88. This electropop duo just keeps putting out good song after good song, and with two albums under their belt now, they’re not showing any signs of fatigue.
This isn’t mainstream pop, though there’s something in the Kids of 88 sound that can appeal both to fans of Lady Gaga as well as fans of darker electro like Hot Chip. In fact, the versatility of their sound and the tongue-in-cheek nature of some of their songs falls right in line with the Hot Chip ethos, giving them an endearing quality that doesn’t rely on sappy ballads or twee pop hooks.
For those who are not familiar with Kids of 88, they’re two young guys who were born in, surprisingly enough, 1988, and grew up in Auckland City, New Zealand. They met at school age twelve and have been best friends ever since, though the music aspect of their friendship came later on. By the time 2004 rolled around, the two then-high-schoolers were making music full-time, winning contests and playing the local festival circuit.
Kids of 88 have gained quite a following in their native New Zealand, but although there has been some crossover into international markets, they simply haven’t gotten the widespread attention in other parts of the world that they’ve received back home. This is a great loss for the rest of us, as rumor has it that they put on a great live show, but so far their touring has been mostly limited to New Zealand, Australia, and a few dates in East Asia.
The first Kids of 88 album, Sugarpills, was released in 2010 to rave reviews, at least in the Southern Hemisphere. The strong summer anthems and catchy beats made the album an instant hit on the club circuit, and helped them gain something of an underground following in North America and Europe. Aside from the tight relationship with the dance floor, though, the album had a musical depth that commanded it be taken seriously. It showed the duo as a serious songwriting team, not only in terms of lyrical depth, but in their ability to manipulate song energy to suit a particular mood.
The problem with a great first album is, of course, the sophomore curse. So many artists are capable of putting out one solid release, and then simply don’t have enough strong musical ideas in storage to create a worthy followup. Luckily for fans, this hasn’t been an issue for Kids of 88. As can be expected from any young musicians, they have grown up since the early days of Sugarpills, and their second album, Modern Love, shows an even greater range of skills. The songs are still high-energy and snappy, but the themes across the album reflect a musical entity that is maturing in more ways than one.
While this may not be entirely good news for fans who were attracted to the whole happy-go-lucky nature of the first album, Modern Love is the kind of album that grows on you over time, and with repeated listens it reveals more and more of where the band is heading musically, while never losing sight of its electropop roots. Although these guys are certainly growing older and wiser, that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their love for strong, intelligent dance music, and both sides of this equation are evident throughout the tracks of Modern Love. Songs like “LaLa,” for example, are still full-on with the fun Friday-night-in-the-club vibe, without too much to suggest any deeper meaning. At the same time, adjacent tracks like “Euphoria” feature darker, more thoughtful lyrics: The love, the hurt, the games we play / pull us back and once again / euphoria.
Everything on Modern Love is engineered in such a way to facilitate flow, including a song order that allows easy, oscillating movement between the more energetic tracks and the more philosophical ones. That’s not to say that each of these tracks doesn’t stand on its own, however – on the contrary, Modern Love works well in a shuffle playlist with just about any other high-quality danceable music, and fits particularly tightly with Sugarpills, which is a little odd considering the disparate respective vibes of the two albums.
Given their early start and somewhat meteoric rise, it’s interesting to think about what a band like Kids of 88 could be doing ten or even five years from now. Considering how strong their first two full-length efforts have been, and the following that’s snowballing from that, this duo could be set to make a major international break over the next year or two. But even if they never manage to crack through into big markets like the United States, their sheer talent and musical ability is likely to ensure that they’ll have a solid fan base for the foreseeable future in markets where club-friendly dance music is a staple of the music charts.