Album Review: The Neighbourhood – ‘I Love You’

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Historically, combining rap and guitars has had a low success rate. For every Beastie Boys, there are many, many more Limp Bizkits and Linkin Parks. Latest in the long line of those forging indie-hop are The Neighbourhood, though despite their lofty visions and unorthodox genre-merging, they’re really more of a pop band than anything else.

Something of a buzz band, with debut EP I’m Sorry receiving widespread recognition across the blogosphere, the Neighbourhood are nonetheless clearly aiming for mainstream success  – this is shiny happy pop music with something for everyone – polished and catchy, but meaningless. From their British orthography to their monochrome Tumblr-friendly imagery and carefully orchestrated “mysterious” internet launch, they are to all intensive purposes a carefully marketed boy band, superficially combining indie and hip-hop influences with a touch of emo grunge thrown in, but always setting up camp under the all-embracing banner of early teen-targeting pop.

Opener ‘Afraid’ crystallises everything that is good and bad about I Love You. A slow, angsty indie melody plays over a fat hip-hop beat as Rutherford delivers his rhythmic, singing-rapping vocals. Comparable to one-hit wonder Flobots’ ‘Handlebars’, it’s slick, well produced, and fairly appealing. Listen closer though, and the appallingly emo lyrics will wear down the initial attraction; “It hurts but I won’t fight you / you suck anyway / you make me wanna die” is one reasonably representative (and oft repeated) example. As Evanescence were to metal and Sum 41 to punk, so are The Neighbourhood to alternative hip-hop. Easily accessible, with enough angst for early teens and everything challenging cut out; it serves as a simple, easy introduction to the genre’s basic ideas. It’s perfectly acceptable, unrevolutionary, and of course, entirely inauthentic. ‘Afraid’ even features a serious, hushed breakdown, their version of that slow, quiet section of ‘Fat Lip’ that used to seem so poignant – but back then we didn’t know that Deryck Whibley would go on to marry Avril Lavigne.

Lyrically, the album only deteriorates into further embarrassment.  ‘Float’ sees the half-baked antiestablishment metaphor at its weakest, so adolescent-angst dripping that even Rutherford’s slick Cali tones can’t retrieve it – ‘They show you how to swim / Then they throw you in the deep end’.  The pseudo psychedelia of ‘How’ brings hopes of a late-stage change up, but it’s back to the formula as the vocals kick in; ‘How could you question God’s  existence / when you question God himself / Why would you ask for God’s assistance / if you wouldn’t take the help?’ – hold me, Christian indie-rock-rap has landed.

 After the EPs, this is a huge disappointment. ‘Sweater Weather’, probably their most well-known track prior to I Love You is left to close the album – but it can’t undo what’s come before it. Because its subject matter goes no further than California and sex, it’s far more successful than the confused striving-for-profundity that confounds many of its companion tracks. It’s hard to go wrong when California’s your muse (see Phantom Planet, Best Coast, Katy Perry). Lyrically inane, musically unoriginal, and carefully produced in a think-tank, they’re a marketing man’s wet dream, but they are unlikely to be yours. 

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Album Review: Letherette – ‘Letherette’

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With chopped, falsetto vocals, filthy funk bass, and many a formaggio guitar solo lurking, it’s not hard to see that Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have been a key inspiration to young pretenders Letherette – there’s even a photo of the Wolverhampton duo imitating their Parisian muses, DJing behind D.I.Y. masks, to be found online. So, for those of you who’ve been waiting since 2005, Andy Harber and Richard Roberts’ debut release will certainly tide you over until May.

Admittedly, the start of Letherette is dominated by just the sort of careening synth scales that so defined Discovery,with lead single ‘D&T’ a perfectly plausible Daft Punk album track, all housefunk and squealing falsetto samples. ‘Warstones’ – an instant, exuberant highlight – has been resurrected from an earlier EP and is still clearly channelling the robot-masked-ones. But, it’s so good that if you put it up online as a Random Access Memories leak, much of the internet would be lost in the ensuing exaltation. Whilst the inspiration is clear, Letherette add trickling, shimmering synths never yet heard on a DP release, as well as a pounding house beat that’s more reminiscent of His Majesty Andre than the discofunk of Bangalter and Homem-Christo, stamping their own mark on the sound.

Though the boys have evidently done their homework and made a few important discoveries regarding French electro, there’s more to them than mere copycat soundalikes. Another sky-rocketing success is the effect-laden, sub-aquatic bass of ‘The One’, which features borderline Timbaland ‘boom-click-boom’ percussion and warm, washing synths before diving into throbbing bass and driving, dubby house more akin to Justice’s ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ than anything Daft Punkian. Elsewhere opener ‘After Dawn’’s warm space synths and liquid, rumbling bass call to mind MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular.

Along with the aforementioned disco -house, prog is certainly a core influence on Letherette. The album’s very structure – slow, soaring intro, pulsing energy, ambient intermission, more disco exuberance, and a dreamy closing comedown – lends it an immersive, spacious mood. Mid-album interlude ‘Gas Stations and Restaurants’ drips echoing ambience and psychedelic vocals, building into the slow grooving ‘Cold Clam’, where a niggling loop and shimmering synths creating a more downbeat Massive Attack-styled sound – again, indicative of Letherette’s sonic breadth of vision. Final word ‘Say The Sun’ is an exercise in restrained euphoria, with calm synth loops laid over a proggy beat – an electronic equivalent of ‘Wish You Were Here’, wafting you back to reality.

Despite something of a slow start (the first few tracks are a little too “sub-par Daft Punk”, a little too derivative), Letherette builds into an expansive, absorbing album, spanning a huge variety of influences and threading them together impressively within a coherent framework. Like Messieurs Bangalter et Homem-Christo, it’s dance music that effortlessly transcends day and night, and is fluid enough to please aficionados of many genres. Though the Parisian goliaths return this summer, it seems unlikely that this Wolverhampton duo will be lost in their shadows.

Album Review: Bored Nothing – ‘Bored Nothing’

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Slacker rock, a suitably vague term for that spectrum between Pavement and Modest Mouse, is characterised by lo-fi recordings, apathy, and a gentler, indie take on the core components of grunge. As with everything 90s, it’s been having something of a revival lately, with everything from Yuck’s grungey guitars to Christopher Owens’ DIY apathy finding fairly mainstream success. But of course, though it might seem careless and ill-thought out, there’s more to successful slacker jams than meets the eye.

Bored Nothing– the very name oozes adolescent indolence – have fallen into the trap of believing that basic, lackadaisical tunes will be carried through on the merit of the slacker lifestyle they so embody, whilst in reality, their eponymous debut is little more than apathetic melancholy with scant musical interest to back it up. Like every teenage backyard band, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Fergus Miller has been drawn in by the gentle desolation of the Cobains and Elliott Smiths of the slacker dream, but either doesn’t have the talent or maybe just the work ethic to provide Bored Nothing with much substance. As the man himself says, “most of the work that went into developing my sound involved watching Seinfeld and eating frozen pizza” – a solid slacker sentiment, but maybe a bit more development would be useful next time.

The record is dominated by simplistic stoner riffs (not in the good, Queens of the Stone Age sense, but rather that of those greebo kids who used to sit around in parks, playing the same three chords over and over, occasionally interspersed with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’) and a never-changing guitar tone that sounds like the shitty overdrive setting of a tinny practice amp that soon grates. Similarly, the rhythm section never really varies – an obvious drawback of a limited budget and one guy playing everything, despite the ‘real-life slacker’ kudos it allows. Genuine DIY recording is a tough trick to pull off, and perhaps Miller has just been somewhat over ambitious, but one can’t help but feel that for someone so obviously shooting for the Owens or Smith sound, the production (so effective on the aforementioned records) has been catastrophically overlooked. Likewise, with so little variation, at 14 songs, it’s entirely overlong and quickly becomes very repetitive.

Despite all of those gripes, it’s not completely unrelenting. Opening track ‘Shit For Brains’, though titularly sounding like an old hidden Green Day track, does a better Girls imitation than most, with clean electric guitars whirling under more vaguely discontented lyrics – “what’s wrong with sleep / oh compared to weed it’s cheap/ but my dreams are always keeping me awake” as well as the depressingly successful snipe – “oh it’s so nice to see / that you’re using your degree”. Elsewhere, the inverse-Cobain ‘I Wish You Were Dead’ brings a bit of spunk to the proceedings, with a pleasing, looping surf-guitar hook holding the song together, as Miller lays his washed-out vocals over the top. Similarly, the lullabyish ‘Get Out Of Here’ features a Dylan-esque folk guitar lollop, as well as more Elliott Smith-esque vocals – all heartbreak and dalliances with the law, “I’d carved a tree / with your name and mine / and the sentiment of cheap red wine”.

Ultimately, it’s all just too lazy. Yes, I know that’s the point, but this really is slacking overkill. To paraphrase many a teacher, Bored Nothing just needs to try harder at sounding like he’s not trying.