Terror Jr. have been heralded as a glimpse into the future of pop music since their inception. The dark pop duo is characterized by ghostly vocals crooning through sociopolitical statements and eerie heartbreaks littered with pop culture tributes. The Bop City trilogy (an affectionate name for their three EP releases), walks listeners through a desolate reflection of the modern day, openly discussing topics like substance abuse and women’s rights with darkly satirical spins and melancholy lyrics hidden beneath twinkly experimental pop.
Terror Jr went from being completely unknown to being the hot topic on every music critics’ lips with each release. While some were pleasantly shocked with the fearlessness of their music, the band also raised a lot of questions — notably, the identities of the musicians behind the project, as they always preferred to let the music speak for itself.
After spending a year shrouded in mystery, Terror Jr. is finally ready to tell the world who they really are on their debut album Unfortunately, Terror Jr.
The usual hallmarks of the band all still remain in place, but they feel noticeably watered down. One half of the duo, producer David Singer-Vine, claimed that over 100 songs had to be whittled down to 15 for the album, under the criteria that the sound of Unfortunately, Terror Jr. was representative of who they wanted to be in terms of future growth.
The resulting sound is many steps forward from their prior EP but lacks the experimentation that brought Terror Jr to the forefront of pop upon their emergence in 2016. Even lead singer Lisa Vitale’s simplistic but assertively candid lyricism takes a backseat to make room for songs primarily about relationships with others and oneself.
What we’re left with is a more accessible version of the band fans have grown to love for their shamelessness. Unfortunately, Terror Jr. still feels authentically Terror Jr, but not unabashedly.
That’s not to say their heavy hitters are completely gone — the album’s three lead singles, “Heaven Wasn’t Made For Me”, “Pretty” and “A-OK (Everything’s Perfect)” revolve around contemptuous criticism of modern culture, from religion to body politics to bold, on-the-nose Trump references respectively. The album title is meant to be read as a sign off — as though Vitale and Singer-Vine regret being the ones to bring these hard conversations to the world of pop music. While the sentiment rings true for some of the content on the album, songs from previous albums have done a better job at this; a lot of what’s here would have been better off not existing.
When Unfortunately, Terror Jr. is good, it exceeds expectations. Musically, most of the songs are immediate earworms — unforgettable bubblegum pop that plunges deep. All of the band’s musical choices are made with purpose: lighthearted electro pop beats and airy, autotuned vocals meant to disguise the brutal darkness of the lyrics that only hit after a few listens.
The album opens on the drearily whimsical sound of “Maker”, a song which sees Vitale questioning whether or not her creator would be ashamed of her. By the time the second verse hits, Vitale is given the opportunity to showcase her vocal prowess with a confidence she’s been building towards over the course of three releases.
By the time the equally as memorable “Losers R Lovers” and “Yamaguchi” hit next, the sheer pop power that Terror Jr. has always maintained is already evident on the album. Even while openly critical of just about everything else in the world, Terror Jr.’s music feels like a love letter to years of pop music. It’s as though the duo has studied it themselves and comprised criteria of how to make the perfect pop hit.
With the newfound accessibility of Unfortunately, Terror Jr, it seems as though this is what they were aiming towards – while it works to pull together a cohesive and haunting musical journey, it’s unfortunate that Terror Jr itself got a little bit lost