American pop-rock band COIN started teasing their fourth album in October of 2021 with the release of their single “Chapstick.” On March 25 they released “Uncanny Valley,” a 14-track long exploration of how the human experience can be defined and expressed in light of rapidly advancing artificial intelligence. The title is a reference to the unpleasant emotional response people experience when they view a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot. The band can be given credit for tackling such an ambitious idea, but not for much else.
Every attempt at commentary on the unhealthy dynamic between people and technology is as unsubtle as a public service announcement. The opening track “Learning” serves as the best example, featuring lead vocalist Chase Lawrence’s voice autotuned to sound like a robot gradually breaking free from its programming. Lyrics like “There’s no algorithm for intuition” and “Maybe I’m more than ones and zeros” give an accurate baseline for how little originality is present in the rest of the album.
The other songs that touch on the idea of technology limiting humanity are no better. “Plug Me In” verges on nonsensical with lines like “Is it really just a glitch / When the Bible's an electronic tablet?”
The songs that stray from the album’s main theme are each defined by a gimmick. Some succeed as easy-listening material, while others range from bad to bizarre.
“Take a Picture” shares the perspective of a man who is more than content to leave an unhealthy relationship. “Oh, baby, I'm all smiles, ooh / You're gonna miss this / So take a second and take a picture,” Lawrence tells his fictional ex. The sound of a shutter snapping is a quirky addition to an upbeat tune.
“Take the Stairs” and “I Think I Met You in a Dream” are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The former is a lifeless imitation of the relatable young adult existentialism that fueled the popularity of indie band fun. The refrain “What is the purpose? / What is the point of having control?” lacks authenticity and is easily forgotten. The latter song is the only one on the album that dips into the country genre, and the listening experience is tarnished by the whiplash.
A few tracks are enjoyable to play in the background, but overall the album lacks cohesion, originality and a reason to relisten. “Uncanny Valley” is a major letdown considering the depth and talent present in the rest of COIN’s discography.
The track “Are We Alone?” from their 2017 album “How Will You Know If You Never Try” succeeds where their recent release fails. The singer’s partner gives all of her attention to her phone screen, waiting for notifications from a paramour. Lawrence describes his struggles to connect with her, singing, “Break my back just to make conversation / Pulling teeth just to ask how your day was.” The disdain for technology present in his voice comes across as justified and heart-wrenching rather than pretentious and unoriginal.
COIN will be touring into October, with locations ranging from Dublin to Denver. Whether this disappointing album will affect ticket sales remains to be seen.