Debut albums can be many things. They can be an ocean of different sounds and genres with a fledgling band caught in its vastness. They can be the first step to something bigger and better. They can be a one-hit wonder’s high point or a budding artist’s low point. They can be memorable—and forgettable. For FAWN, an indie pop-rock band from Detroit, Mich., Coastlines feels like an internal tug-o-war, an album that aspires to more than it achieves. There are brief moments, an unexpected breakdown or a glowing vocal harmony, where aspirations turn reality but are quickly drowned in a miasma of predictable chord progressions and sluggish pacing.
“All The Lights” opens the album in the right direction. Chugging, inventive bass lines coupled with a subtle guitar build up to an emotional highpoint and then are eclipsed by a grunge-y outro. Unfortunately, the album’s momentum is unable to escape the opening track. The guitar and bass become an incessant drone, which chokes the album of its intense pacing. What worked well in the first song now seems somehow off-kilter. The vocal harmonies seem forced, the guitar work repetitive and the melodies tiresome.
By the third song, it’s apparent the band is working with a formula: constant quarter notes, a collection of “oohs” and “aahs” and as many vocal harmonies as possible. The middle of the album gets a little murky with each song possessing the same tame Interpol/Mates of State sans keyboard feel. When FAWN steps outside the expectation, the most memorable moments coalesce. “No Wave,” easily the best-executed track on the record, opens as an indie rock lullaby and transitions to a fast-paced pseudo punk song. FAWN flexes some musical muscle on “The Forest” as these tracks try to put out any audible fires that were left over from the first half of the album. Unfortunately the album descends back into obscurity with “Pennies” and “Pixels” and finishes on a conflicting note with “Cobra on the Beach;” while in itself not a bad example of the band’s musical prowess, it’s a strange hard rock track that doesn’t fit the album’s otherwise laidback, poppy feel.
The album’s production doesn’t help matters. With such high-ranged vocals and treble-heavy guitar, many of the songs feel void of texture. It’s unclear exactly how Coastlines will serve FAWN’s future discography. If the band continues to manufacture predictable song structures, it could mark the beginning of the end. However, if they find away to channel the moments on this album that are the most inspired, Coastlines could just be the first step.