When Fish Ride Bicycles has been in limbo for three years, and The Cool Kids’ sound and sensibility has remained frozen during that time. In the sense that this is technically a debut album, and a debut album is supposed to be a statement of purpose from a new artist, Fish does its job well, introducing the Kids as retro-cool old-school acolytes subsisting on a steady diet of colorful throwback references (and sneakers) and trunk-rattling bass. But in a world where this “debut” was preceded by The Bake Sale—a mega-hyped 2008 EP that already introduced them as such—plus a succession of progressively less-hyped mix-tapes and a wave of Internet buzz that is by now well on its way down the far end of the bell curve, Fish feels a little warmed-over.
It features some successful attempts to spice up a by-now-familiar aesthetic: the occasional synth or pop hook mixing it up with the relentless, booming low end, whose unchanging tempo becomes less invigorating with each successive track; a litany of guest verses from names like Bun B, Ghostface, and, uh, Asher Roth; and updated outdated references that swap out callouts to “Black Mags” for “Penny Hardaway.” The result is amiable, catchy tracks like the funkified “Gas Station” and the feather-light poolside jam “Swimsuits.” But the balls-out swagger of The Bake Sale has been replaced by a sense of obligatory mark-hitting that saps some—though certainly not all—of the songs’ energy. The interchangeable, mellow-to-a-fault flows of MCs Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish often play third and fourth fiddles to their good-humored wordplay and Inglish’s aggressive boom-bap production, though the Kids shine brightest unaccompanied and unadorned on the straightforward “Bundle Up,” which comes closest to reclaiming—and more importantly, amplifying—the Cool Kids swagger of old.