In 2011, Chet Faker’s brilliantly brooding version of the Blackstreet ’90s-R&B classic “No Diggity” went viral, not only reaching No. 1 on Hypemachine and sound-tracking a Super Bowl beer commercial but also helping to turn the Melbourne singer-musician’s debut EP Thinking in Textures into a pop hit back home. This led to a 2013 collaboration with kindred EDM upstart Flume; their haunted “Drop the Game” went platinum in Australia.
All this is particularly remarkable for a dude who consistently looks and sounds as though he just woke up from an all-night bender. The process of writing, recording and playing nearly every note on Built on Glass, his first full-length album, may have dragged Faker out of his bedroom, but he actually sounds less awake and fully realized than on his earlier work: There’s nothing as effective as the oscillating electric piano on “Diggity” and little as catchy as his Flume collaboration. This is PBR&B without the inspiration of a Weeknd or Frank Ocean — a wash of narcoleptic synths and stumbling beats with no momentum.
Despite his moniker, Faker’s got a genuine presence and it’s not all dissolute. In nearly every song here, he alludes to being emotionally and physically stuck, and his see-sawing tunes capture the vibe of someone whose bad habits, inner turmoil, and pull toward self-destruction get him nowhere and keep him there. Unfortunately, the music mirrors him: On “Talk Is Cheap,” the first single, his pained cry is compelling, but overly repetitive keys and vocal samples stagnate the track.
All this comes to a head in “Melt,” in which he admits his happiness is “some kind of fucked up mess” while his duet partner Kilo Kish dreams of her bones being broken before she breaks off the relationship. But rather than capturing a capricious spark between losers, the two just sound lost: Faker comes off, irritated while Kish can’t even hit her easy notes. A sexual connection so strong that it’s likened to an overdose shouldn’t sound like a headache.