Artist: Bag Raiders
Label: Modular Recordings Pty Limited
Non-Airable Tracks: NONE
Description: One of the things that I love the most about the music industry, is its unpredictability. From the listeners’ perspective, this unpredictability might come in the form of an artist or band, experimenting with a style that may seem strange, but very lovable. From the artists’ perspective, this unpredictability may come in the form of a chance. A label takes a chance on a group, on their visions, and what they stand for; sometimes, this leads to mainstream success (in more ways than one). Enter, Bag Raiders, an Australian duo that is best known for their 2009 single, “Shooting Stars,” that has managed to resurface twice since its original release. The first time was in 2013, as it re-entered the Australian singles charts, outperforming its original release by 18 spots. The second time was in 2017, when it became an internet meme, and subsequently led to the group rereleasing “Shooting Stars” as a new single. But enough about that. Ten years after Bag Raiders released their self-titled debut, followed by a series of singles and EPs, the group is back with their second studio album, Horizons. On Horizons, Bag Raiders invites listeners to take a step out of the groups usual light and airy aesthetic, and into a new world that is full of color.
Horizons opens with “Faraway,” which starts off with a bunch of sounds that range from industrial to instrumental, but manage to retain their harmony. About a minute in, a light drum beat and shimmering piano chords cuts through the orderly chaos, greeting listeners with pure happiness. The vocalist sings about embracing life by “waking up to greet the day,” and informs the listener that there is “something coming through the air, racing to a place unknown.” At this point, it becomes clear that Bag Raiders are not here to deliver us “Shooting Stars 2,” and that’s a good thing. The vocalist emphasizes this by “quickly [brushing] away the dust,” and inviting the listener to wait and see, or listen, to the magic that Horizons has to bring.
The second track, “I Need You,” adds a more melancholic, yet very real, tone to the album. “I Need You” opens with some acoustic guitar noodling and muffled synth chords, as the vocalist croons over his isolation, yearning to be reunited with his love. The vocalist fears, not being able to “face the storm” by himself, and worries about being left alone after realizing that he couldn’t play the role of his love’s hero. To balance out the very real lyrics, the duo brilliantly crafts the chorus around a sound that offers hope by keeping the song groovy with a dance beat and smooth guitar, without eclipsing the song’s message.
Bag Raiders continue their little blue period with “How Long,” featuring vocals from Panama, a fellow Australian artist. Opening with lo-fi chords and effects, Panama sings about his thoughts “turnin’ blue” since his love left. After a listen to the chorus, Panama’s predicament becomes more nuanced as he reveals that he is aware that one he loves is there physically, but not emotionally. This unrequited love song is kept downtempo with a mellow bass and soft plucks, which well emphasizes the lack of a spark between the protagonist and his subject, creating a dance song for the lonely. I love the idea of this song and the composition behind it, but my only criticism is that the lyrics don’t seem to dive deeper into how Panama feels about his situation.
If “I Need You” and “How Long” was the blue period of the album, the next two tracks, “Wild At Heart” and “Back To Myself” serves as the countering rose period. “Wild At Heart” starts with guest vocalist Mickey Kojak listing out all of the fun things that he and his lover did, such as, “[climbing] up a mountain, [jumping] out of a plane, [dancing] in the rain… [making] love in the ocean,” and continues to list in the second verse. Interestingly, these verses are backed up by soft chords and drums, but this later proves to be a smart decision as the chorus explodes with life using big EDM synths and basses that one could probably pass as a Chainsmokers/Zedd crossover. In “Back To Myself,” guest singer Tora gently croons about his problems, but implies that he does not mind them at all as long as he has somebody to walk through life with him. Tora’s vocal delivery combined with breakbeat drums, a clean but powerful bass, and shimmering piano keys adds a pleasant warmness that competes with the cool feel that has been present throughout most of the album so far.
The first half of the album comes to a close with “Medicine,” which is also the longest track. The song takes the form of your usual EDM song, using a few one-liners every now and then while showing instrumental progression. However, throughout most of the song, it seems like the only things progressing are the sound effects, rather than the melody. The overall mellowness of the track also kills any anticipation for surprises. If that’s your style, feel free to take a listen to it, but if it’s not, in my opinion, skipping this song may not hurt.
Bag Raiders opens up the second half of Horizons with “Lazy,” an unusual love song that is fairly minimal in instrumentation, but rightfully so. For the first half of the track, the vocalist talks about his laziness, and how others’ criticisms of it do not phase him, all of this is backed by a low-pitched synth. It is like that for the second verse too. The singer then mentions that he would like to be lazy with his lover, doing nothing else but simply enjoying each others’ presence. During the chorus, the tempo briefly picks up with broken chords and a funky bass guitar that cuts through near the end. While I would not say that this is the strongest track on the album, through the right lens, it is a sweet song.
Afterwards, Bag Raiders once again show their party side with the showstopper, “Lightning.” Guest singer, The Kite String Tangle, sings about being a lone ranger, who thought that he could take on the world by himself, backed up by soft piano chords. When KST admits that he does need someone else in his life to get through the rainy days in life, the chorus is brought to life with chords that are bright, yet also balance power and modesty, which is layered under a cute melody that is carried by a punchy synth. This is one song that you don’t want to skip!
The next two tracks, “I’ll Be Loving You” and “Breakdown,” describes the protagonists’ relationship unraveling and steps into his psyche both musically and lyrically. “I’ll Be Loving You” starts with two conflicted synths that take turns repeating their own melodies back to each other, which could very well resemble the inner turmoil that the protagonist now faces. The singer reveals that his conundrum is trying to recover from a fallout with his love, but at the same time, being well aware of their seemingly manipulative ways. Throughout the song, it seems like the singer is ready to take responsibility for himself, and his lover, although he may not actually need to, which adds a delightfully dark edge to the track. My favorite part of “I’ll Be Loving You” is the chorus, because the singer tackles their emotions with an R&B flair that is reminiscent to a few Justin Timberlake songs (a welcome surprise for sure). Following up is “Breakdown,” in which the protagonist admits that the relationship between him and his lover was toxic. He also mentions that although his lover has left him physically, they still remain in his mind. The soft aesthetic of the song, characterized by blip synths, quiet guitar flanges, and airy synths provide a calming feeling, as if suggesting that the protagonist will eventually forgive himself, and his lover, and move on with his life. Thus, “Breakdown” helps turn a toxic situation into a healthy one, in time of course.
The last two tracks of Horizon, “Anchor” and “In This Life” show that the protagonist is ready to move on, although he can’t help but ponder how things would have turned out if everything went differently. On “Anchor,” the singer acknowledges that his toxic relationship with his lover has dragged him down and that he needs to come down from the high that it gave him. In between the verses, Bag Raiders keep the tone downtempo but groovy, with a combination of club-style basses, slightly buzzy synths, and an electric guitar that cuts right through, which may represent the clarity that the protagonist has found. On “In This Life,” the singer admits that he just wanted to love his ex-lover, as he is backed up by soft piano chords, blip synths, and other vocalists. Not only does “In This Life” serve as a bittersweet ending to the protagonist’s relationship, but to the album as a whole. Yet, it still has me asking, “what happens next?”
Overall, if I had to describe Horizons in a few words, it would probably be: blue, rose, black, and gold. Bag Raiders has done a wonderful job exploring the highs and lows of a relationship, brilliantly conveying the feelings both musically and lyrically. I do think it is kind of a downer that the album opens on such a high note and does not end in the same spot, but I guess that just goes to show how impactful the album is. Once again, Bag Raiders did not come to deliver “Shooting Stars 2,” and they do not need to, because they have delivered something a whole lot better. In my opinion, the nine year gap between the albums was well worth the wait.
Sounds Like: Miami Horror, PNAU, Cut Copy
How Long (feat. Panama)
Wild At Heart
Lightning (feat. The Kite String Tangle)
Reviewer’s Name: Nick Ramos
Date of Review: 2/05/2020