13 February 2010

Chew Lips: "Unicorn"

And let the comparisons begin. A trio that relies on electronic equipment with a female vocalist – they’re like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. An electropop act with a soulful female vocalist – they’re like Yazoo. An explosive electro-dance act – they’re like Sunscreen. Wrong, wrong, and wrong – they’re Chew Lips and may very well turn the electropop world on its head. They may have taken some cues from these bands, but their own unique twist on writing music is distinct and fresh and ready for a 2010 audience. The band is young… very young! They formed in the spring of 2008, and a dozen or so shows into their nascent career, DJ Steve Lamacq featured them in the Electric Proms Festival in October of that year. The rest is history… with a release in the UK of “Unicorn” (25 January 2010 in the UK, import available 9 February 2009 in USA), this trio (vocalist Tigs and instrumentalists Will Sanderson and James Watkins) is already making waves in British and continental clubs, while redefining the entire concept of minimalist electropop.

I will advice you to do is listen to this album at high volumes, because it obviously was produced with the intentions of being played at a club, and some of the subtle sounds may be lost at low volumes. With that said, the music does not rely on little gimmicky sounds to get you all giddy over reliving the 80s. The songs rely on tight beats, ingenious arrangements, and when “sounds” are used, it is to highlight the vocal or rhythm arrangements, but the occasional electronic staccato surfaces. The ostinato in some of the songs is barely noticeable, and do not form the heart of the song like in synthpop. The kinds of sounds that arrest your attention are varied – from the synthetic to guitars and pianos – and you have a soundscape that is never predictable. (Adding guitars and bass guitars – albeit very affected – creates more depth of sound than other traditional electropop acts.) And though I typically hate fade-outs at the end of songs (can’t song writers figure out how to end their songs!), in this case they seem just the natural course of events.

One of the most difficult things for electropop or synthpop bands is to have vocals that seem to be part of the soundscape, which neither pushes the music in the background nor overwhelmed by the music. Tig, proves her vocal chops in this department. The vocals give the music an organic feel that electronic music does not usually have, and the music and vocals are always in perfect balance. And Tigs incredible vocals are really highlighted in the closing track, “Piano Song.” I wonder if the title of this song is sheer coincidence or homage. Erasure’s “Wild!” also ends with a track called “Piano Song,” and when you have spent the time listening to the album, with all the minimalist beauty and luscious vocal arrangements, you wonder if Vince Clarke [of early Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly, and Erasure fame] was not an influence. Regardless, if coincidence or homage, the track is the most serene on the album, really showcasing Tigs’ vocal capabilities. The vocals border on hallow, yet carries the emotional tone of the piano and synth sounds. And even with the synths are getting louder and louder, it is her voice that carries the song. You are never distracted.

I was tempted to just write: “Great album, go buy it!” and call it a day. Chew Lips’ “Unicorn” is amazing on every level: vocal arrangements to production, lyrics to odd synth sounds. And though the album is full of 80s (and 90s) cues, the music does not sound dated, a pitfall that many electropop acts fall into. Whether this album becomes your guilty pleasure, the most eclectic piece in your collection of music, or the album you are proudest to own, one thing for sure: this is an album that will get under your skin in a good way. (My favorite tracks: “Karen” and “Two Hands” – simply amazing.)

Track Listing:
1. Eight
2. Play Together
3. Slick
4. Karen
5. Too Much Talking
6. Toro
7. Two Years
8. Seven
9. Two Hands
10. Gold Key
11. Piano Song

Keep up with Chew Lips at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their latest video, “Play Together” from their YouTube Channel: chewlipstheband.

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