Change is inevitable, and on their new record Cheap Thrill, Hank & Cupcakes drive that point home with window-rattling party tunes. These face-melting tracks leave the band’s past albums in the dust in an effort to redefine their sound, a decision which is more confusing than progressive.
Hank & Cupcakes formed in Tel Aviv, Israel, but are a new addition to Atlanta’s music scene, moving here last year after living in New York since 2008. The husband and wife duo consists of vocalist/drummer Sagit “Cupcakes” Shir and bassist Ariel “Hank” Scherbacovsky, an instrument pairing which hasn’t limited the band’s ability to create vibrant, passionate songs.
Cheap Thrill is a departure for Hank & Cupcakes, one that their previous album, Ca$h 4 Gold, hardly teased at all. This is a band who has made their name crafting bouncy, high-octane pop songs, so when the first track “Kiss Your Face” explodes with Karen O style yelps and ferocious guitar, it’s clear the band is exploring new ground.
Ca$h 4 Gold sounded remarkably fresh in 2014, a slice of noisy exuberance in a world where pop was becoming increasingly feathery. It might seem strange that duo chose to expose the rougher and tougher sides of their music after such success with more sugary tunes, but the genius of Hank & Cupcakes lies in their melding of radio hooks and weirder — or at least wilder — instrumentation. In the past, this experimentation has allowed the band to create music which is both fun and smart, but on Cheap Thrill the result is scattered when it should feel organic.
Despite the misshapen identity of the album as a whole, Hank & Cupcakes still know how to write catchy tunes. If this were simply a collection of singles and B-sides, it might not feel like as much of a letdown. The percussive shimmer of “Duplicate” displays the sense of un-ironic fun and snappy rhythms in which Hank & Cupcakes are unmatched. On the other hand, “Ice Machine” is rock and roll in its truest form. The towering breakdowns echo all the swagger of the Kills, but try as they might, Hank & Cupcakes can’t summon the snarling bitterness needed to give the track the knockout punch it needs.
After sweating, dancing, and head-banging to Cheap Thrill, the question still remains as to why the duo changed what was already working so well. The duo describe the album as a “sonic revolution” designed to counter carefully choreographed Top 40 pop, but they already proved their proficiency at deconstructing pop with their last two LPs. Instead, the album finds the band awkwardly straddling the gap between rock and pop which they should be able to cross with ease. Despite the added distortion and pounding drums, the bumpy ride towards pop’s noisy edge isn’t as thrilling as it should be.