Before the term "post-dubstep" was coined, quickly appropriated, deemed dubious, and subsequently dumped, Mount Kimbie was a truly remarkable group. Londoners Kai Campos and Dominic Maker had stumbled upon a sound that was at once all-inclusive and non-specific, a spritely mishmash of elements cherry-picked from ambient, dub, R&B, house, indie, noise, folk, and an array of UK-centric club music. They even managed to hone this nothing-is-sacred production approach to a refined point when writing their debut LP for Hotflush, Crooks & Lovers, setting the precedent three years ago for a genre that countless acts have tried—and mostly failed—to replicate. Not yet out of their twenties, Maker and Campos are basically forefathers of a particularly niche sect of electronic music, so the weight of importance on whatever Mount Kimbie would follow its first album with has long been palpable. But instead of trying to raise the bar once again on sophomore record Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, the duo has settled down considerably, exchanging outright experimentation for hooks, vocals, and simpler song structures.
We're greeted with a jazzy and soulful fanfare of brass and synth from the start of opener "Home Recording," which is soon joined by stuttering, rickety beats and soft guitar plucks that naturally convey the same effortless vibe pushed on Crooks & Lovers. But the quiet vocals that begin asking questions from a distance immediately feel unusual. It's not that they are out of place—in fact, it's surprising how much room Mount Kimbie's sound allows for singing, whether it's from the band or spot-on collaborator King Krule—but more so unexpected, like waking up one morning to having jet-black hair instead of blonde. The change might take some getting used to, but the handful of instrumental tunes on Cold Spring Fault Less Youth help with that transition. Dreamy and subtle from the start, "Break Well" is an especially strong palette cleanser that sounds like a live band covering one of Mount Kimbie's early gems; the equally atmospheric "So Many Times, So Many Ways" treads on similar territory, but with more directly engaging results. Maker and Campos come closest to completely capturing the vibe of their debut LP with the quick "Lie Near." The moody production treads a line between late-night jazz abstractions and prickly, dawn-hued comedown music—it would only need a solid beat to make the song sound like a Crooks & Lovers outtake.
Clocking in at a breezy 37 minutes, Mount Kimbie's second album feels a bit slight by the time it's finished, though not because it's short on great ideas or compelling tunes. It's quite the opposite: Maker's and Campos' knack for crafting nuanced productions out of unusual and interesting sounds has survived above all else. But once the beautifully ambling closer "Fall Out" finishes the last of its quiet seconds, there isn't a whole lot that absolutely stands out or pulls you back into Cold Spring Fault Less Youth—there's nothing like the bubbly groove of Crooks & Lovers' "Would Know" or "Carbonated"'s soulful effervescence. The King Krule-featuring "You Took Your Time," a stripped-down and slick piece of experimental R&B, is probably the album's strongest takeaway single, and proves that Mount Kimbie should look into collaborating further with the gravel-mouthed singer. With its thumping beat and repetitious vocal refrain, "Made to Stray" makes a strong case for being the sole club-appropriate track from Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, partially because it sounds something like a Hot Chip b-side circa The Warning.
Perhaps the result of trying to sidestep or simply outgrow the dreaded "post-dubstep" genre tag, Mount Kimbie has found itself in the middle of no-man's land. The band's new music isn't exactly forward-thinking, but it isn't entirely old-hat either. Only a few of Cold Spring Fault Less Youth's 11 songs are proper pop tunes, but none of them are explicitly made for DJ use. Curious stomper "Blood and Form" has the structure and lyrics of a radio single, though it lacks a strong or memorable delivery from the singer and generally feels sluggish and flat. Still, it could be argued that Cold Spring Fault Less Youth is a more mature album from the UK duo, but music and the calm level-headedness that comes with maturity don't necessarily always make a winning combination. When Maker and Campos succeed on their second full-length—as they do more often than not across its tracklist—they do so with an inherent grace and unique creativity. But when the album falters, it sounds as if Mount Kimbie has succumbed to the pack artists who have been following in the pair's footsteps from the beginning.