First Hate – A Prayer For The Unemployed
First Hate’s A Prayer for the Unemployed finds its way into the world on Escho, the Copenhagen independent label that first released—and whose owners continue to manage—Iceage. And while perhaps it’s a little unfair to hold up a debut album as emblematic of anything, it does seem to neatly encapsulate how the city’s underground scene has changed over the last half-decade. Back in 2011, Copenhagen was all angry young men making visceral punk and industrial music that spoke its intent through cryptic lyrics and heathen runes. But that period lasted for barely a blink of an eye. Before long, Iceage’s singer Elias-Bender Rønnenfelt was exploring plaintive synth music in Vår, and Hannes Norrvide had embarked on the long road to transforming his former solo project Lust for Youth from misanthropic noise into a sort of romantic Balearic boyband.
And now there is First Hate. A Prayer for the Unemployed finds Anton Falck Gansted and Joakim Nørgaard building bright, synthetic pop music from yearning melodies, sparkling Euro trance keyboards, and padding club beats. One obvious touchstone is the Pet Shop Boys, with whom First Hate share a taste for smartly observed vignettes of complicated love and metropolitan living (and you sense Neil Tennant might see an album title like A Prayer for the Unemployed and happily claim it as his own). But they still have the sense of a band who rehearse in Copenhagen’s graffiti-plastered practice space Mayhem, and part of the appeal of this record is in the tension it draws between DIY practice and pop sensibility, juxtaposing underground temperament with choruses that soar.
There are echoes throughout of the scene that spawned them. Gansted has a voice that’s a close ringer for Rønnenfelt’s—proud and surly and a little bit sensual, as if just roused from sleep. Songs like “Bullets of Dust” and “Supernumerary,” so pretty and urbane on the surface, seethe with undercurrents of lust, confusion, and teenage melodrama. Perhaps their defining moment so far is “The One,” a sashaying piano house track with notes of New Order’s “Temptation,” in which Gansted picks over a relationship that has lapsed into stares and silence. The early verses find him trapped in a cage of indecision. But as the song winds towards its climax on peals of harmonica, a female voice enters the frame: “If I’m not the right one/Tell me what you’re waiting for…” Suddenly the clouds part, and Gansted closes the song with a brief spoken word segment that is decisive and without mercy. “Life is not always about keeping your promises,” he intones. “Life is about following your heart.”
There is a recurrent caddishness to First Hate, the sense that these boys would break your heart and dash off without a moment’s hesitation. But alongside arrogance there is empathy, and the feeling that First Hate want their music to reach out and actually mean something to people. “Copenhagen MMXIV” is an immaculate ballad directed towards a heartbroken girl as she takes a nighttime passage through the city, drawing comfort from the lights of distant windows. Meanwhile, the title track brings to mind another, rather more high-profile Dane, MØ. A song about hope and self-care for a generation overlooked, its breathy synths and clarion-call melody lines recall one of Diplo’s more gently euphoric productions, and its chorus shuns any hint of cynicism or subversion as it pirouettes off towards the clouds.
Moments like this raise questions. Like: will First Hate end up a DIY pop band, or an actual pop band—and does anything, beyond a fanbase, really separate the two? A Prayer for the Unemployed doesn’t quite feel like the finished article. Slightly front-loaded, its boldest moments are dispatched early. Still, there is something potent in First Hate’s mix of innocence and ambition. Too savvy to be naïve, but too wide-eyed to feel fully mature, right now their youth is the source of their power.
– Pitchfork (7.9)