Release date : March 2011
For fans of : James Blake / Frank Ocean / How To Dress Well
House of Balloons is some seriously filthy sex music, the stuff of grimy nightclubs and their sleazy, dingy bathroom stalls. Not that this debut mixtape from The Weeknd sounds particularly scuzzy or ugly in any way. Far from it, in fact; this is some of the most polished stuff released this year. But these songs have a distinctively urban quality about them, in a way that transcends the now-gentrified “urban” genre and shoots straight for actual city streets. Musically, House of Balloons isn’t particularly far removed from mainstream R&B, and what with its highly recognizable samples, it often does sound very familiar, but it’s infused with unfiltered, unrestrained libido, eschewing glamour for something more sweaty and rough-edged…and that is very difficult to come by in this day and age of desexualized, mass-marketed product.
“You don’t know what’s in store, but you know what you’re here for.” Right from this opening line, The Weeknd set the stage with a titillating come-on against the backdrop of slow, lightly distorted beats. The effect is utterly intoxicating, at once visceral and luxuriant, and the production somehow manages to sound both claustrophobic and expansive. The same goes for the mixtape’s titular track, which takes the riff of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House” and brilliantly lays it atop an enormous and hypnotic beat that’s just a bit too slow to properly dance to. Once the song’s cleverness wears off, its emotional heft sets in; in its new context, the cry of “this is a happy house” is less a joyous celebration than a desperate utterance, as if repeating the phrase over and over will somehow make it true. Underlying this is the knowledge, of course, that “House of Balloons” really isn’t a pleasant place, and herein lies the conflict that drives the track forward.
So when The Weeknd choose to tread on more familiar hip-hop ground, as on “The Party & The After Party”, it feels knowing and darkly humorous. Lyrics mentioning Louis Vuitton and high heel shoes are delivered in a despondent tone instead of a typically hedonistic one. Such an attitude can sometimes verge on being solipsistic, but The Weeknd wisely choose to simply opt for a pained and resigned outlook rather than a self-indulgently virtuous one. If they’re lightly poking fun of contemporary party culture, they’re also halfheartedly embracing it. There’s a prevalent feeling of melancholy and self-loathing throughout much of House of Balloons, not only in these references to trite hallmarks of modern-day hip-hop culture, but also in some of the mixtape’s more explicitly sexual moments. The quietly arresting “Coming Down” is defined by its breathy, desolate coo of “I always want you when I’m coming down”, and “What You Need” is a sultry, seductive track darkly colored by its longing chorus: “He’s what you want / I’m what you need.”
It’s this emotional honesty that makes House of Balloons as successful and addicting as it is. Much has been made about the mysterious background of The Weeknd, and how it remains unclear whether it’s a solo project or a band. Certainly, The Weeknd’s sudden appearance on the radars of outlets like Pitchfork, Disco Naïveté, and Drake’s Twitter invites questions about the role of anonymity in music. After all, pop in the aughts has been dominated by outsize personalities, from the strangely arresting downward spirals of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears to the agitprop art of M.I.A. and the attention-grabbing antics of Lady Gaga. But as the decade drew to a close and the Internet established itself as a permanent fixture in the music business, a new group of pop-influenced projects began to crop up. Many of them were immediately relegated to various pointless microgenres, but they often shared a common thread - they sprung up from near-anonymity and gained momentum with the help of blogs and social networks. It was refreshing, if only because it finally allowed for the artist to be separated almost entirely from the art, but it also begs the question: how much of the attention foisted upon these artists, of which The Weeknd are most certainly a member, was borne out of mere mystique, and how much of it was the result of legitimate interest in what still matters most, which is, of course, the music itself? Thankfully, when the work is as good as the gorgeous extended comedown of “Loft Music” or the aqueous groove of “The Morning” that question answers itself. With House of Balloons, The Weeknd have confidently shown that their anonymity is but one small facet of their artistic existence by presenting music that stands on its own - and then some.
1. High For This
2. What You Need
3. Glass Table Girls
4. The Morning
5. Wicked Games
6. The Party & The After Party
7. Coming Down
8. Loft Music
9. The Knowing
Release date : January 2010
For fans of : Fleet Foxes / Arcade Fire / Death Cab For Cutie
Recorded and released on their own dime, the Head and the Heart’s self-titled debut is one of the biggest grassroots success stories of the past year. The Seattle band managed to sell 10,000 copies by word of mouth alone, which is impressive for any unsigned act, especially in this economic and business climate. They’re touring relentlessly and have landed some enviable opening gigs for Vampire Weekend and, ahem, Dave Matthews. The result is a deal with Sub Pop and, inevitably, a re-release of their debut.
That would be a remarkable story if the album were innovative or intriguing, if it offered some new take on Pacific Northwest folk-rock, if it had personality beyond its success. Instead, The Head and the Heart is a lackluster mélange of vaguely old-time instrumentation, wan gospel harmonies, and heart-always-on-sleeve songwriting. Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson trade off lead vocals, each trying to out-earnest the other, while Charity Thielen’s violin traces placid swirls around the melodies. But it’s Kenny Hensley’s piano that distinguishes the band and broadens their palette, for better or worse. He injects some much-needed pomp into “Ghosts” and “Heaven Go Easy on Me”, goosing these songs out of their tasteful torpor. On the other hand, he constantly falls back on the tactic of repeating chords to convey general drama, which recalls Coldplay more than Tin Pan Alley.
The band’s name is intended to emphasize both emotion and intellect, yet so many of these songs fall flat in both aspects. They’re capable lyricists, although prone to lapses in judgement. “I wish I was a slave to some age-old trade,” Russell sings on “Down in the Valley”, “like riding ‘round on railcars and working long days.” Neither of those examples truly qualifies as an “age-old trade,” and the implication of indie slumming may have some listeners clicking Move to Trash before the first Elizabethtown chorus. The song is a travelogue that goes nowhere at all.
Such nods to history and to hard labor are meant to give this album the sheen of authenticity, but it doesn’t take long to see through to the calculation beneath. Musically, the band’s old-time approximations resemble the Avett Brothers, but, without that group’s effortless harmonizing, easy melodicism, and demonstrative vocals, the Head and the Heart sound anonymous, their drama wholly predictable. Conceptually, they’re close to Mumford & Sons: opportunistic in their borrowings, yet entirely unimaginative in the execution. Theirs is a thoroughly timid, tentative take on Americana: roots music without the roots.
1. Cats and Dogs
2. Coeur D’Alene
4. Down in the Valley
5. Honey Come Home
6. Lost in My Mind
7. Winter Song
8. Sounds Like Hallelujah
9. Heaven Go Easy on Me
Release date : May 2011
For fans of : Passion Pit / LCD Soundsystem / Arctic Monkeys
There’s a song on Friendly Fires’ eponymous 2008 debut that’s called “Jump in the Pool”. The lyrical concerns are pretty straightforward (hint: jumping and pools are involved), but what makes it one of the LP’s standouts is how its chorus takes the titular advice and just goes for it, changing from peppy polyrhythms to fast, charging lushness in a matter of seconds. It’s a melodic shift that’s as over-the-top as it is impressively delivered— but that’s kind of the point. Friendly Fires was best when playing to the rafters with romantic electro-gaze textures (“Skeleton Boy”) and big, cheesy gestures (“Paris”). They’re sensualists who excel under a lack of restraint.
Wisely, the band’s sophomore effort, Pala, wastes no time submerging itself into its own indulgent environment. The multi-layered neon pop of album opener “Live Those Days Tonight” only hints at the LP’s sonic ambition, as the band’s immense co-production with buzz-bin consigliere Paul Epworth lends extra depth to its colorful sonic detail. There’s been three years between Friendly Fires and this thing, and they’ve clearly spent it well by jewelling every last detail with careful precision (the B-movie blast that spools off “Blue Cassette“‘s final reel, “Helpless”’ backseat chatter and Boards of Canada keyboards).
To an extent, Pala also clears these guys’ name on the “rockist dance-dilettante” list. From the galloping UK funky rhythm in “Chimes” to the filtered, bleeping funk of “Hurting”, there’s an array of styles tried on and, for the most part, successfully worn. Those successes speak as much to the band’s listening habits as they do to a sense of maximalist adventurousness.
However, all the signifiers in the world don’t change the fact that Friendly Fires are a rock band first— and a particularly emotive one, at that. The band’s three members got their start as teenagers in the never-known vocal-less “post-hardcore” (read: emo) outfit First Day Back. Anyone who’s ever had a taste for that stuff knows that once it enters your blood, it tends to stay there, and Pala’s high-stakes framework reflects that. Hearts are set on fire regularly (no, not like that), while impassioned pleas “Show Me Lights” and “Pull Me Back to Earth” are exactly as sweeping as you’d expect. It’s when the band gets too entrenched in maudlin, dark-hued dramatizing (the too-slow-burn of the title track, “Chimes”’ bald-faced falsetto foolery) that Pala’s deep-sea diving feels similar to drowning.
Not to worry, though— they have a sense of humor too, as ”Hawaiian Air” proves. As the title suggests, frontman Ed Macfarlane’s lyrical concerns focus on a trip to, you guessed it, Hawaii— only, he spends the entire song detailing his escapades on the flight there (“watching a film with a talking dog,” “skipping the meal for a G&T”), barely able to breathe in that tropical oxygen. It’s a simple-pleasures zoom-in that belies the album’s candy-painted sweep, a sneaky yet sentimental grin amidst all the pleading and sincerity— ‘cause this stuff is supposed to be fun, right?
01. Live Those Days Tonight
02. Blue Cassette
03. Running Away
04. Hawaiian Air
07. Show Me Lights
08. True Love
09. Pull Me Back To Earth
Release date : June 2011
For fans of : Cults / Holy Ghost! / Gang Gang Dance
An album like Yacht’s Shangri-La forces one to question their own experience. As a teenager in the 1980s, this reviewer was equally as fond of the sounds of Burt Bacharach as he was Captain Beefheart. With the added element of age, the schmaltzy syrup of Burt seemed an inviting diametric to the free jazzaesthetics of Van Vilet. Somehow, it never even mattered that Bacharach’s music represented just about everything that Beefheart was railing against.
Yachts seems like a take the 1980’s with a similar lack of scene politics. Their sound seems to mix a no wave dissonance with the sounds of polished, MTV-ready art rock a la post Speaking in Tongues Talking Heads. Geeky and dancey, this duo from Portland are more reminiscent of They Might Be Giants than Chris and Cosey, which is an oddity in today’s uber-hip conscious climate. The question is, is this refreshing? There is a reason that a band like Chris and Cosey is hipster savvy and TMBG really isn’t. To put it blunt, nerd rock often seems fun at first, but it is a novelty that ultimately wears thin.
Shangri-La is no exception. As kitschy as it is catchy, it lacks any type of staying power. There is bound to be a magazine cover in the near future for the couple; who’s stylist has worked overtime to cast them in the roles of “Cool Places” Wiedlin/Mael, but there just isn’t enough hear to make the history books. There are the word games of “One Step” which reads like an Ogden Nash poem set to B-52’s Karaoke and the off electro country of “Dystopia,” which could pass for something out of the indie Athens scene circa ’86. Unfortunately, there’s the almost cruelly unhip title track, that could pass for a Sheryl Crow outtake. Therein lies the problem, DFA’s foray into the world of shallow pop ultimately lacks any depth to make it matter.
2. Dystopia (The Earth Is on Fire)
3. I Walked Alone
4. Love in the Dark
5. One Step
6. Holy Roller
7. Beam Me Up
8. Paradise Engineering
9. Tripped & Fell in Love
Release date : May 2011
For fans of : Yeasayer / Animal Collective / Brian Eno
As a proudly underground entity, Manhattan’s Gang Gang Dance seemed bent on creating one long celestial psych jam. But for 2008’s Saint Dymphna, they pared down the dubby dance experimentation and reaped the rewards (namely, a record deal). Less woozy and intoxicating than its predecessors, that album was a gateway drug into what now turns out to be an even wilder and murkier milieu.
GGD’s fifth album and first for 4AD, Eye Contact opens with the 11-minute “Glass Jar,” a freewheeling mass of synths, cymbals, and high moans that withholds the beat far beyond the halfway mark. The song also contains a key clue: a man’s voice declaring with Sheen-like clarity (and/or inscrutability), “It’s everything time.”
While Dymphna divvied up the band’s influences over ten identifiable songs, here their entire spectrum of styles gets blasted constantly, each track bleeding into the next. Eastern scales, New Age haze, jungle drums, and druggy rave effects create a dense aural whirl that assumes solid form only briefly: Lizzi Bougatsos keening like a Bollywood star gone dancehall (“Chinese High”); the C+C Music Factory crescendo of “Mindkilla”; and the fantastic “Romance Layers,” with Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor lounging on a bed of house-inflected ’90s R&B.
So, Gang Gang Dance are back to testing boundaries. For them, it’s a return to the future.
01. Glass Jar
03. Adult Goth
04. Chinese High
07. Romance Layers (featuring Alexis Taylor)
10. Thru and Thru
Release date : February 2011
For fans of : Gill Scott Heron / Thom Yorke / Jamie XX
In January, Portishead founder Geoff Barrow took to Twitter to snip at James Blake. “Will this decade be remembered as the Dubstep meets pub singer years?” he asked, not naming the 22-year-old producer who, only that morning, was highlighted in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll. When dubstep boomed and shuddered from Croydon at the dawn of the last decade, Blake wasn’t yet a teenager. Barrow, on the other hand, was almost 40 and already on hiatus from one of the previous decade’s most influential bands. He’d heard the rise of dubstep— its cavernous bass, quick-click rhythms, bent vocal hooks— and the tall, plaid-wearing kid from Enfield must have sounded a lot like its populist fall.
Barrow’s dismissal of Blake is, presumably, a defense of dubstep— the gesture suggests a purist, an elitist, or both. Reconsidered from the other artistic end, however, the implication is that maybe this is the decade where singer-songwriters— longtime wastrels of pianos and six-strings with three chords— finally get interesting, manipulating their pretty little voices and best love songs for something more than plain ballads and pleas. In that case, Barrow is right about Blake’s full-length debut. Composed of tender torch songs, elegiac drifters, and soulful melodies, Blake’s first puts him in the rare company of fellow singers— Thom Yorke, Karin Dreijer, Antony Hegarty, Justin Vernon, Dan Bejar— who’ve recently bent their own lavish voices, not samples, to make interesting pop music shaped with electronics. These songs are bigger than the defense of any microgenre, and, chances are, they’ll soon make Blake a star. He deserves it.
Dubstep producer Untold released “Air and Lack Thereof”, Blake’s first single, on his Hemlock label in 2009; it was solid, slightly spooky dubstep, with drums darting around a sample that kept eroding. Since that debut, though, Blake has slowly focused on crafting songs— bona fide, three-to-four minute builders— around hooks. Last year’s “CMYK”, for instance, spliced Blake’s voice with cuts from American R&B to place an indelible hook inside a number that actually progressed through its four minutes. Blake’s more recent Klavierwerke EP draped its dance floor intentions around his own sweetly sung voice. And now, he moves still further from abstraction, to verses and even an occasional chorus.
While the songs are the magnetic center here, Blake’s musicianship and sonics are equally striking. A “dubstep” producer with a gentle piano touch and an ear for granular synthesis so sharp it will make fleets of laptop toters envious, his toolkit is seamless. The two-part “Why Don’t You Call Me” / “I Mind”, for instance, opens with only voice and piano, played with the studied delicacy of a classical student. But Blake cuts it short 30 seconds in by splicing and resampling the piano line. He then bends his own voice and sings the lone verse twice, editing and re-shaping it into a new form that bears only the faintest resemblence to its opening source material. In the suite’s second half, the vocals become spinning smears that fall into the background. It’s the only time on the album where the drum clicks, static bursts, and piano splashes become the essential motion. It’s the type of track you might have heard on one of his recent EPs— the kind Blake purists lament this album’s supposed lack of.
With this new LP— released on a major label on both sides of the Atlantic, no less— odds are, a lot of people are going to listen, and I don’t mean in the tail-eating, blog-bite-blog sort of way. “Lindisfarne II” takes what Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago did best and turns it into a simple, poignant mantra; if it doesn’t score the season’s end of some prime-time drama, a music director should be fired. The same goes for the album-ending “Measurements”, which somehow pulls the sound of a Southern black gospel choir from Blake’s laptop and white-boy coo. Feist cover “Limit to Your Love” works in just enough of dubstep’s bass flutter and snare snap. If Blake really does cross over and become the pretty white male who introduces a broader audience to dubstep, with its foundations in Jamaican music and black musicians in South East London, he’ll receive the tired, requisite backlash. But these 11 songs— gorgeous, indelible tunes that are as generous in content as they are restrained in delivery— will last a lot longer.
2. Wilhelms Scream
3. I Never Learnt To Share
4. Lindesfarne I
5. Lindesfarne II
6. Limit To Your Love
7. Give Me My Month
8. To Care (Like You)
9. Why Don’t You Call Me
10. I Mind
Release date : September 2010
For fans of : MGMT / Yeasayer / Cindy Lauper
Dreamy, whimsical and strange is the sound of The Naked and Famous, and they welcome you to their alternate world with their debut album,Passive Me, Aggressive You. The best way to describe Passive Me, Aggressive You is like the love child of Yeasayer and MGMT with their odd percussion and synth tones with a mix of psychedelic dream pop, enticing the listener into a mind spin of indie/pop delight. The Naked and Famous are actually not that famous, and unfortunately are not that naked either and hailing from New Zealand, Alisa Xayalith and Aaron Short are out to prove that they are at least, one of those things.
Passive Me, Aggressive You packs plenty of punches, especially with first single, ‘Punching In A Dream’. The first thing noticed is the instantly recognisable vocals of Alisa Xayalith, which sound like a young Cyndi Lauper as in a girls just wanna have fun take off. Xayaliths vocals stick out like a sore thumb, and take some time to get used to, though they fit the deep pounding electro drums and looped synth lines so perfectly, that you’ll think you are back in the 80’s having the best time of your life.
Lyrically, the writing across the album is pretty light but not lacking in makeup, and gets the intended message across quite substantially:
“We’re only young and naive still
We require certain skills
The mood it changes like the wind
Hard to control when it begins
The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-betweens
Fall back in love eventually
Yeah yeah yeah yeah”
‘Young Blood’ is the 2nd single, gaining a huge following in Australia, with its sing-a-long chorus, delayed synth chords, modernised 80’s like versus and Xayalith’s pulsating vocals, it’s enough to get anyone jumping. Though, this was a strange choice of second single by the band as the album contains so much variety, that it seems as though they were trying to sell themselves as a single genre type of band and not show off the eclectic sounds that they have created. This is shown in cuts such as the acoustic camp fire tune, ‘No Way’ which builds to a galactic and hectically sounded rock anthem. Then there is the guitar screeching ‘Jilted Lovers’ and the gorgeous indie/electro album ender, ‘Girls Like You’, filled with duel vocals from Xayalith and Short, closing the album in an epic fashion. The Naked and Famous have a sound that is enticing, dreaming, eclectic and pulsating. Their mix of indie, rock, electro and pop is done well, yet can come across as a bit samey and may not get a large replay factor from some of the lesser tracks. Still, The Naked and Famous have definitely stamped their name on the indie music scene of the moment, and produced a tantalizing offering in Passive Me, Aggressive You.
01. All Of This
02. Punching In A Dream
04. The Source
05. The Sun
07. Young Blood
08. No Way
10. Jilted Lovers
11. A Wolf In Geek’s Clothing
12. The Ends
13. Girls Like You
Release date : April 2011
For fans of : Animal Collective / Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti / Tame Impala
This is where we find Noah Lennox, better known as Panda Bear, with the release of his new album Tomboy. Following a double-knockout – his universally celebrated 2007 solo-album Person Pitch and his work on the equally beloved 2009 Animal Collective album Merriweather Post Pavilion – Lennox returns with some of the best music of his career. By most standards, Tomboy is a terrific album. Unfortunately, the highest standard Lennox faces is Panda Bear’s own.
That said – fans of melody, don’t despair! On Tomboy, Lennox continues his long journey into pop. His songwriting is still defined by circularity, and the hooks he turns have never been this immediate. “Afterburner” skips on a vaguely funk foundation, with Lennox’s vocal melody rising, falling, and tumbling upon itself. The clap and strut of “You Can Count on Me,” “Last Night at the Jetty,” and “Alsatian Darn” could be described as stately and rollicking in the same breath, without fear of contradiction. “Slow Motion,” the album’s standout, reminds us that what counts is “deep down,” except its charm – let’s dance! – is front and center.
Tomboy tracklisting :
01 You Can Count on Me
03 Slow Motion
04 Surfer’s Hymn
05 Last Night at The Jetty
07 Alsatian Darn
09 Friendship Bracelet
Release date : February 2011
For fans of : Busy P / Breakbot / DJ Mehdi
The Ed Banger boys are back in town with an all new compilation, called Let The Children Techno, and it marks a return to form for the infamous French label – yes we know it’s a terrible name – and some what confusing, as we were dreading a CD full of techno.
We couldn’t be anymore wrong, it’s not techno, well there is some In there, but its a good old fashioned compilation straddling every possible genre you can think, house, electro, dubstep, fidget and funk. You can expect to find the all stars of Ed Banger Records including Busy P, Sebastian, Breakbot as well as a plethora of other artists from Djedtronic to Brodinski.
Over the last few years it seemed like Ed Rec were going a bit sideways, their much coveted sound was no longer talk of the town and while some of their bigger names took a back seat – it begun to look and sound like Ed Banger Records was getting a bit stale.
Step forward Breakbot – a man who makes funk – he’s beeen at the forefront of their revival – call him the anti-bangor. And his presence as well the signing of Cassisus and Square Pusher has got people talking about Ed Banger again.
The compilation is jam-packed full of great tracks and all expertly mixed by Busy P and DJ Mehdi – notable tracks to listen out for come via Breakbot’s funk-phenomenon ‘Shades of Blake ‘. Man of the moment Siriusmo’s eosoteric ‘Idiot’. And Mr Oizo intro track which is just superb.
Blog favourite SebastiAn pops his head in for a moment, to show everyone why we’re all still eagerly anticipating his debut album – we’ve been promised it’s coming – and for us it can’t come soon enough.
The whole compilation marks a return to form for Ed Banger Records, it’s weird and wonderful and not the usual blend we’d expect from them.
But they finally look like they are moving on and looking to broaden their horizons – one thing is for sure Busy P has been listening to a lot of Dubstep and you can tell most of the guest spots go to a variety of Dubstepper’s with L-Vis 1990, Skream and Flying Lotus all given the nod on ‘Let The Children Techno’. Ultimately the success of this compilation will come down to ‘Let The Children Choose’ we think that they will.
Let the Children Techno tracklist:
01. Mr. Oizo: “Let the Children Techno”
02. Busy P: “Procrastinator”
03. Duke Dumont: “Hipgnosis”
04. Siriusmo: “Idiot”
05. Para One & Tacteel “Infinity Riser (Remix of Bernard Fevre’s Dali)”
06. Breakbot: “Shades of Black”
07. Sebastian: “Enio”
08. Mattie Safer: “Is That Your Girl?” [ft. Telli from Ninjasonik]
09. Gesaffelstein: “The Voice”
10. Cassius: “Shark Simple (L-VIS 1990 & the Neon Dreams Remix)”
11. Djedjotronic: “The Invisible Landscape”
12. Discodeine: “Grace”
13. Feadz: “Far From Home” [ft. Claude Violante]
14. Brodinski & Tony Senghore: “Anagogue”
15. Bobmo: “Control”
16. Zombie Nation: “Relax”
17. Riton: “One Night Stand”
18. Skream: “Boat Party”
19. DJ Medhi: “TragicoMehdi”
20. Flying Lotus: “Caravan of Delight”
Release date : May 2011
For fans of : The Isley Brothers / Heatwave / Chromeo
Impressions opens with a rather faithful cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do.” I’m pretty happy about this selection because it’s always good to see the Isleys receive their due. Most people my age are only familiar with the (absolutely mindblowing) early ’90s, Ronald-as-Mr.-Biggs, Kels collaborating work of The Isley Brothers, and only know their earlier work from hearing “Shout” played at soccer games. Seriously, most cats my age, if questioned, would probably tell you that Diddy wrote “Between the Sheets.”
Anyway, this is a great song, and Mayer Hawthorne does it justice. He employs a classic, early ’70s soul arrangement. The track is guitar/piano and bass-driven, super sparkly, and will remind you not only of the Isleys but also of late-career Marvin Gaye. Vocally, this track incorporates great work from Mayer’s backing group and, though no one is Ronald Isley, Mayer does a good job with Ronald’s parts by not attempting to imitate Mr. Biggs. Mayer’s voice comes off very white-soul, and it works really well on this track. I know the term “white soul” can be considered a dig, but in this case, it’s not. He’s the good part of white soul, like an airier version of Paul Carrack in his ACE days.
It gets a little misty on “The Quiet Storm,” when Mayer covers Chromeo’s “Don’t Turn The Lights On.” It’s a pretty stupendous version, and barely recognizable. To hear Mayer’s envisioning, one might never believe that Chromeo wrote this babymaker. It sounds like it could be some Lover’s Rock-era Sade or possibly an Anita Baker jam. In fact, Mayer’s vocals have a lot of Anita texture on this one.
The next track is called “You’ve Got the Makings of a Lover.” This track is new to me. Luckily, as the press release informs me, it was new to Mr. Hawthorne as well, so there is a pretty decent description of where it came from. I would’ve pegged it on sight for a Spinners song. But I guess that’s understandable. The production on this one is far more R&B than soul, the arrangement is very Detroit, and Mayer’s voice sounds a good deal like Bobbie Smith on “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” It’s actually by Dallas, Texas group The Festivals. And it’s great.
The next two songs are a bit of a departure from the rest of this EP and are a very nice change. To my ear, they both hearken to LA’s great songwriter era. The first, “Fantasy Girl,” is another new one for me. It absolutely sounds like a lost Nilsson track, but it isn’t. The second is Jon Brion’s “Little Person.” Production-wise, “Little Person” is the standout on this EP. It begins a good deal like the original but then throws the listener a bit of a curve, sort of like an Association number or something from the aforementioned Isleys. ”Little Person” is a piano ballad at heart, and Hawthorne keeps it keys-based and tests his upper range a good deal before letting the bass run all over and fattening the song up a bit. This is a great example of Mayer working the dynamic production like a master. His arrangements are, in parts, very sparse, and he makes very daring choices. He delivers a synth glockenspiel, heavy bass, and strained vocals in a manner that is far more difficult than it sounds. Seriously, it takes a masterful knowledge of the classics and a massive chunk of self-confidence to make this sound right. The man nails it.
And the EP closes with an excellent live recording of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” I never had much exposure to ELO. I blame punk for that. During the first waves of both punk and hardcore, ELO was used as a negative point of reference by more backlashing punkers than any band on the planet…with the possible exception of Bread. To hear the old-timers talk about ELO in films like The Filth and the Fury and/or American Hardcore, you would think that they were absolute monsters. I don’t know exactly why they received the brunt of the punk backlash, because I was still many years from alive, but that’s how it went down. Punk, and later hardcore, really did all they could to stuff ELO into the guilty pleasures drawer. And, for many of us, they reside there ‘til this day. So I guess I don’t really have the background to write about this one. Regardless, this song is pretty much undeniable. Everybody knows that the guilty pleasures drawer is the most interesting drawer in the whole damn room. The guilty pleasures drawer has stuff like paddles and masks and handcuffs in it. All the other ones are just full of tube socks.
Impressions tracklist :
1. Work To Do (Isley Brothers Cover)
2. Don’t Turn The Lights On (Chromeo Cover)
3. You’ve Got The Makings Of A Lover (The Festivals Cover)
4. Fantasy Girl
5. Little Person (Jon Brion Cover)
6. Mr. Blue Sky (Electric Light Orchestra Cover)