AlunaGeorge tend to fall squarely on the electronic side of the electropop spectrum. Initially joining forces through a remix, electronic music’s favorite form, Aluna Francis and George Reid’s early work was a headrush of glitchy bells and meandering vocals. At that point George was just a collaborator, beaming in via MySpace to remix a track from Aluna’s old band My Toys Like Me, but even then they complemented each other well: Aluna had no issue with George freely tweaking her already confident voice and George had no problem with Aluna’s mercurial songwriting. By the time they became AlunaGeorge, they’d managed to transform this dynamic into a fully formed aesthetic. Early single “Analyser” is as close to a duet as a singer and producer can get: Aluna’s first verse and George’s droning synths begin at the exact same time, no tension between them. Body Music, their first album, was just as fluid, seamlessly mixing poppy flourishes into their patented formula without sacrificing potency. I Remember ups the dosage of pop a bit further, and the result is completely diluted.
The album’s first lines are clearly a mission statement. “Droppin’ all that dead weight/Light the candle in my head/Droppin’ all that bad vibes/Tearin’ up my new frontier,” Aluna taunts on “Full Swing,” before leaping into a booming chorus. It’s a stark contrast to the humble beginning of Body Music, and it’s a thrilling reveal because Aluna has never openly pushed her voice so hard. But before this moment can really build, the song’s momentum is immediately short-circuited by a strangely placed verse from Mississippi rapper Pell. The verse materializes like a cell phone screen in a movie theater—blinding, disruptive, distracting—then vanishes just as quickly. And the song never recovers. It’s almost as if AlunaGeorge are scared of their own ambitions.
Other songs are just as noncommittal. “Mean What I Mean” is ostensibly a song about the absolute necessity of consent, but it would be a straw house in a hurricane without strong guest verses from rappers Dreezy and Leikeli47. “I mean what I mean when I say so/Not trying to be mean when I say no,” Aluna sings in the chorus, pulling her punch before throwing it. Elsewhere, on diet dancehall “I’m In Control,” there’s not a single hint of perversity or verve. George’s composition is dryly straightforward, chugging along with unembellished loops and softened percussion. AlunaGeorge have always been smooth, but here they sound soft, the glitches debugged, their quirks edited out.
A quick scan of the liner notes might suggest that it’s the guest producers who have left the group so defanged (the first album was entirely produced by George), but the tracks with guest producers are some of the strongest. “Not Above Love” features help from Rock Mafia, who add some live instrumentation to George’s trap-infused production, injecting grit into AlunaGeorge’s often sleek sound. Similarly, title track “I Remember” features some help from Flume, whose knack for vapory melody brings some intimacy to the track, elevating it from nostalgia to impassioned longing. “I remember, I remember, I remember your scent/When I just woke up and I’m on your chest,” Aluna coos over stutter-stepping synths, her heart fluttering.
The group finds their footing on their own terms on the sublime “In My Head,” a muted house groove that manages to channel Fever-era Kylie Minogue (minus the earnestness). The chorus rolls off the tongue and lodges in the brain and the production shimmers, the dead weight finally dropped. But “In My Head” is the outlier. Ultimately, I Remember collapses under its caution. After the major success of DJ Snake’s remix of Body Music’s “You Know You Like It,” which was already a popular song, it was clear that AlunaGeorge would eventually cross-over. What couldn’t be foreseen was how middling they’d be about committing to it. AlunaGeorge could have been an electropop act that failed (or succeeded) spectacularly at full-fledged pop. Instead, they’ve committed to neither their roots nor their ambitions, landing them squarely in that dull purgatory between triumph and tragedy: a cycling playlist.