There was once a time when import albums were accessible only to those willing to shell out the extra $10 per item, the added tariff being a necessary evil in order to gain access to the bonus tracks and rare b-sides that came with these overseas gems. Anyone who has lived within driving distance to an independent record shop can attest to picking up that UK single with the rare cover, live track, outtake or remix that turned out to be just too tempting to put down. Looking back, however, it’s become painfully obvious that these days are, for the most part, behind us. Now that everything is accessible through digital means, there’s arguably no reason to pony up $25 for an import album, or wait a six-month eternity for a U.S. release.
It’s a clear sign that times have changed when an electronic duo from Gothenburg, Sweden can achieve widespread critical acclaim and blog buzz without having released a single item in the United States. Last year’s A New Chance EP was not only an excellent release, but a European curiosity, the likes of which would never have been heard around these parts had it not been for digital circulation. Thankfully, for those who still prefer to invest in tangible media, The Tough Alliance is being given their American due, starting with a reissue of their first album, The New School.
In a way, The New School is something like A New Chance in chrysalis. The same general framework is there: Balearic and house-inspired beats and electro, sassy and effects-laden vocals and melodies aplenty. While it doesn’t quite reach their most recent effort’s heights, it certainly has its share of bright spots and bubbly highlights. After the bleeping, late ’80s throwback “Tough II,” the duo breaks into the outstanding title track, which is somewhat reminiscent of the title track on A New Chance as well. From there, a reggae-tinged groove drives “In the Kitchen,” while “Make It Happen” is a synth-heavy shuffler, bouncy and bright—a summertime essential. “Koka-Kola Veins” is particularly enjoyable, as well, pulsing heavily and showing, even in the group’s earlier stages, a strong penchant for melody and accessibility.
In the coming months, The Tough Alliance’s A New Chance will also, in fact, be released in the States. And it’s about damn time, even though quite a few internet-savvy folks have no doubt heard it by now. Nonetheless, while America waits to pick up this gem in legit form once and for all, The New School comes as a surprise bonus, kicking up beats and setting off buoyant synthesizers like it was 1989.
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Video: “Koka Kola Veins”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.