The Serfs’ 2020 debut, Sounds of Serfdom, seemed tailor-made to the tastes of the goth YouTube algorithm, where success scales with how '80s to-the-letter your band sounds—see the frictionless coldwave of Molchat Doma. The Cincinnati trio’s early releases scanned as little more than lo-fi imitations of their influences, nervy, bare-bones cartridges of minimal wave that played like Oppenheimer Analysis B-sides with less variation. But on their third album Half Eaten by Dogs, the Serfs up the ante, imbuing their once-pallid synth-punk with color and velocity.
Opener “Order Imposing Sentence” hurtles forward like a car on the brink of falling apart, stringing together clanking percussion, a spirited guitar riff, and shouted, Gun Club-style vocals. “Suspension Bridge Collapse” and “Cheap Chrome” have a similar liveliness. Like Sextile and Mandy, Indiana, the Serfs charge gritty post-punk with glitter of dance music, adding more gleam while retaining their own rough, spirited voice. “Club Deuce” is the serpentine gem at the album’s center: Bright, lucid synths pingpong across cavernous claps as keyboardist Andie Luman whispers cryptic nothings. The effect is intoxicating. While McCartney's vocals for The Serfs sometimes lend a soporific effect to the songs, distorted and flat, Luman’s ghostly presence elevates the intrigue.
Half Eaten by Dogs is noticeably frontloaded, slowing down in the back half. While these songs are mostly satisfying, they can start to feel like a drag. The dreamy glissade of “The Dice Man Will Become” lasts so long that it starts to feel immaterial; the closer “Mocking Laughter” peters into static, a disappointing ending to an album that’s so dynamic. But there’s still a strong spirit to the Serf’s songwriting, and they have stoked a remarkable fire beneath their sound, pushing themselves in a zippy and promising new direction.
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