STRFKR has always been a constantly evolving entity, growing over the years from rambunctious beginnings into the manicured electro-pop perfection they exhibited on their last studio album, 2016’s pristine Being No One, Going Nowhere. New album Future Past Life breaks new ground, dialing back some of the high-gloss production they’re known for to craft songs that are stripped down, spaced out and somehow as visceral as they are dream-like. STRFKR goes deeper into these songs by breaking them down to their essential elements, finding a new immediacy when working with raw materials.
Much like the music on Future Past Life, the way the album came together is strange and winding. In 2014, STRFKR’s principal songwriter/lead vocalist Josh Hodges was staying in Amsterdam for a few months, working on the music that became Being No One, Going Nowhere. By complete chance, a European traveller who was crashing at Hodges’ house in L.A. while he was abroad connected him with some like-minded musicians in Amsterdam, Mathias Janmat and David Hoogerheide. Even though they were more or less strangers, the three musicians clicked almost instantly, coming up with new songs within the first few hours of meeting. They got together to work on new ideas several times while Hodges was in Amsterdam, and the new Dutch collaborators even ended up contributing to the STRFKR song “Tape Machine”. Hodges made his way back to the States, but as time passed he found himself returning to the songs from those Amsterdam sessions. Ultimately the band decided that material was so inspired and magical, it was something that needed to be heard. Honing in on the vibe of those songs, they were able to reinterpret those demos into something new, retaining the core elements of their sound as they routed it into new territory.
Having returned to Portland after living for a time in L.A., Hodges finished the album in his new home studio, getting input abroad from Janmat and Hoogerheide and at home from bandmates Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran to help flesh out the final renderings. For the first time on a STRFKR album, every song is driven by acoustic guitar as synth melodies take on a more supportive role. Rough-edged mixes push the drums into the red and trade cleaner production for an atmospheric lo-fi approach. Lead single "Never The Same" is warm and direct, with a straightforward delivery that highlights how vulnerable the band's lyrics can be. This kind of careful, hushed energy is new territory for STRFKR. Going out on this ledge results in one of the band's most rewarding songs, one that's mysterious and lush but as intense as a secret being whispered in your ear. The multiple viral melodies of “Deep Dream” twist ecstatically as reverb-coated percussion and distant ambient textures add to the otherworldly vibe. “Budapest” locks into an airy groove, washed over by waves of angelic vocal harmonies from Polyvinyl labelmates Shy Boys. The entire album feels stuck on a cloud somewhere between earthbound rhythms and alien song structures doused in echo.
The immaculate but danceable pop that has long been STRFKR’s calling card is pushed into exciting new places on Future Past Life. On past records, heavy lyrical themes and darker undercurrents could get obscured by infectious hooks, but here minimal arrangements cut to the emotional center of the songs. It’s a strange and beautiful sonic environment, one that finds STRFKR growing as they embrace the chance and spontaneity that brought these songs about in the first place.