It's a bit unfair to tar Midland's new project with this brush. For one thing, AKASE is a band, where his peers' efforts relied on guest vocalists. Singer-songwriter Robbie Redway helps draw their music out of that awkward no man's land between the club and everyday life. For another, the duo's reference points are more niche, though the way they surface can be alarmingly direct. When Redway delivers a spooky falsetto over lilting IDM beats on "Rust," Thom Yorke's spectre hangs heavy. On "Feel A Little," it's Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe haunting the speakers.
The foundations of Graspers are solid. Midland's drums are expressive and neatly syncopated, the synth work colourful but restrained. Tempos vary, and the duo throw in a couple of near-instrumentals ("Beseech," "Extract") to shake things up. Occasionally, as on "Deft Ways," Redway's melodic sense feels strong, though elsewhere ("Adrift," "Call") he piles too much emotion onto flimsy lyrics.
Graspers only has one fatal weakness, and it's one of approach. The prime building blocks of these tracks aren't melodies or chord progressions but loops. The duo's linear arrangements could keep a dance floor chuntering along, but they make for clunky pop songs. The better ideas ("Borderlines," "Is It Because") founder through excessive repetition, and the gently downcast mood soon becomes stale. Graspers isn't a total failure. The question is, as with its sibling albums before it, whether it takes a wrong turn or simply doesn't go far enough.