Review Summary: The album of the year race just got fired up.
Electro-pop is back, and very much a la mode in 2009 – particularly amongst the Brits. Here’s a tip: once you’re done with Little Boots, The Bird and the Bee and the Pet Shop Boys, there’s something else you need to hear. An entirely new force has delivered its debut after a string of very tempting singles leading up to its arrival.
The collective of which we speak is La Roux – producer Ben Langmaid and one of the year’s more unlikely sex symbols, vocalist Elly Jackson. Given, it’s difficult to keep up with all the latest superlative-inducing hype darlings that outlets like NME and the blogosphere constantly churn out. At last, however, we’ve come across one that deserves every bit of praise that comes to it – La Roux
is one of the strongest pop albums of the year, impeccably capable of not only showcasing very apparent musical influences (Depeche Mode, New Order, even the Human League); but establishing a very distinctive sound in spite of the former.
Dissecting a duo such as this should be an easy task – one sings and one does the rest of the work. Even a half-interested listen to La Roux
, however, will bring a listener to the conclusion that such analysis is too much of an oversimplification. Much like the partnership of the aforementioned Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, there’s an art to their sound collectively, as opposed to individually.
Langmaid’s endless variety of tones and styles in his synth patterns flow alongside electronic backbeats that are livened up by the occasional industrial clang or vintage TRS-808 sounds. Correspondingly, the red-haired one (“la roux” in French) is faultlessly able to provide its perfect counterpart throughout the album. Her warm, organic voice spans several octaves over the twelve tracks on offer, establishing herself as a genuinely exciting vocal talent in a genre not exactly known for finding such things.
Take track two, “Tigerlily”, and track four, “Bulletproof” – in this instance, to demonstrate the album’s collaborative successes. “Tigerlily” throws out warped arpeggio with harsh kick-drum rhythm and a spoken word interlude eerily similar to Vincent Price’s Thriller cameo. Subsequently, it is caught by a vocal line that is frail and ominous in tone, creating a magnificent album highlight in the process. At the opposing end of this, the confident bop of “Bulletproof” twirls through its verses before soaring through a wondrously harmonic chorus. Atop of Langmaid’s chirpy keys (as well as on top of the figurative world), Jackson boisterously executes a sassy kiss-off, both vocally and lyrically.
Elly Jackson creates several multi-faced characters through her lyrics on La Roux
. The stories thrive on romance and passion, leaving the listener to perceive Jackson somewhat enigmatically. The same woman who is “going in for the kill” and hoping you will “not let go” of her hand on the ridiculously catchy “In For the Kill” is also quick to remind you that she is “not your toy” on the track of the same name – adding, for good measure, that “this isn’t another girl-meets-boy”. Different times and different situations at the time of their individual writing, sure, but both songs show both her strengths and vulnerabilities, and are arguably two of the strongest examples of an album that wears its heart on its sleeve, pant leg and phone background.
La Roux have created a lasting first impression with plenteous hooks and the sensational feeling that we may have found the closest thing to pop perfection in the year’s releases. Don’t bother listing them as an “artist to watch” – if all goes well, La Roux
will see them garner exposure to the point that they are unavoidable.