Grecian duo Keep Shelly in Athens has received a lot of love over the past few years, largely thanks to the just-right combination of producer R??'s dream-swept synth atmospherics and vocalist Sarah P's airy coo. Following EPs for Forest Family and UK powerhouse Planet Mu, and even a split cassette single with Disclosure, the dream-pop-obsessed pair is expanding its sonic palette on its first full-length album, At Home.
It's evident across the LP's 14 songs that R?? is aiming to push past the atmospheric boundaries that have largely defined the group to this point. "Time Exists Only To Betray Us," which kicks off the album, immediately hints at the duo's buried stadium ambitions, putting a quick-running arpeggio and barreling drumbeat behind a strong vocal melody that has the "wet" knob dialed back to five instead of its usual eight or nine. Elsewhere, "Higher" offers another welcome change, as R?? makes good use of a chopped-up vocal against a surprisingly rumpled rhythm. In the album's second half, power ballad "Sails" finds Sarah P crafting an elegant vocal line against a swimming, evocative wall of sparkling pads, while penultimate track "Hover" shows that she can inject some attitude into her vocals when necessary.
However, such moments of excitement and newness are too few on At Home, as Keep Shelly in Athens relies too often on a combination of well-trodden drum patterns and stock sounds that occasionally scream "preset." Several tracks on the album utilize a booming, '80s snare drum that serves to distract from the more interesting sonic textures that lay waiting underneath. It's an odd choice for a forward-thinking producer like R??, as though he settled on a sound that was to be eventually replaced and never got around to it. Dream pop is rarely celebrated for its attention to melody, as it usually places texture and atmosphere higher up on the totem poll, but At Home would have benefitted from a few more melodies that were capable of sticking with the listener past the album's running time.