The ways in which bands and artists have “eras” in which just a line-up or sound (i.e. genre) change is very literary to me. Literary to the extent that many authors have phases and eras within the breadth of their bibliography, that is. A band like Rush has had at least three distinct eras: Led Zeppelin wannabe, then science fiction/fantasy progressive rock, and then groove-heavy hard rock–spread out over 40 years.
This week’s record, “Altogether,” by emo/dream pop band Turnover, is a turn toward a new era for the group. A forewarning is due, however: I do not think this is for the better. Before this album, Turnover used to be a shoegaze/emo laden band renowned for their atmosphere. And before that, just any other pop-punk band, not unlike Major League or Seasons Change. Now, Turnover means to bend themselves even farther from previous efforts by fully embracing a new pop and R&B sound.
Except what this means is that the final product ends up being, well, elevator music. In fact, the moments that want to be jazzy and funky aim so low that you might wonder if the band heard one Kenny G record and were way too inspired. “Altogether” begs for us to redefine, however, what “inspiration” really means in the preliminary stages of writing an album. It’s difficult to say that an album like this, combining newfound sounds, is actually inspired and not just pulling for straws. What’s perhaps more disappointing is that Turnover has never given a chance for their previous sounds to develop beyond the initial record those ideas were founded on. “Peripheral Vision,” often regarded as Turnover’s magnum opus, was almost forgotten by its follow-up, “Good Nature,” a positive in tone, awkward 180-degree turn into pop territory.
When we talk about bands shifting their sounds, we often consider this to be “taking a risk” or “challenging themselves.” This doesn’t compute with “Altogether,” though, because it does not challenge Turnover’s prior efforts, but rather succumbs to an easy solution for songwriting that, on the surface, looks like “variety.” For a band that has very little consistency, Turnover inherently splits its audience into factions. For me, the cautious observer, I think I’ll just keep listening to “Peripheral Vision” and nothing else from their discography.