Archive | June, 2014

Chromeo, Act II: Their latest, White Women, reviewed.

24 Jun
Dave 1 and P-Thugg of Chromeo.

Dave 1 and P-Thugg of Chromeo.

Chromeo, Chromeo, wherefore art thou Chromeo…?

The name Romeo means “from Rome”. Similarly, Chromeo should mean “from Chrome”. Combining ’80s excess and glitter with the Shakespearean themes of romance, doomed lovers and young love, the flashy electro-funk duo entitled Chromeo consists of Dave 1 and P-Thugg (civilian names: David Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel).

Last month, they released their latest album in a decade-long career, entitled White Women, after the book of fashion photography of the same name by Helmut Newton. The iconic style of Newton, a “fashion photographer whose provocative, erotically charged black-and-white photos were a mainstay of Vogue and other publications,” gives inspiration to White Women’s album art: a leggy, veiled and faceless bride linking arms with the duo that is Chromeo. Ironically, their name is emblazoned in gold, not chrome–while the band wants to emulate ’80s aesthetics, “Gold-Plated Chromeo” does not roll off the tongue as easily.

Since their first album a decade ago with She’s in Control, the Montreal-based band has pursued a “romantic electro funk” sound. They are mostly compared to other dance-rock musts like Prince, Michael Jackson, Daft Punk and Duck Sauce (a duo that includes Dave 1’s brother, A-Trak aka Alain Macklovitch). This pursuit does not end with White Women, as Chromeo declares on their Facebook page: “Pee (still looking a smooth criminal in a Coogi) and Dave (ever the Semitic/Gallic heartthrob in tight pants) are back.”

Chromeo - White Women (2014).

Chromeo – White Women (2014).

White Women’s name, the flashiness, the girls, the excess, and the attitude are all just part of the experience. The album is homage to the music and culture of the late 20th century, with each song a bumbling love letter to a faceless woman of different decade, sang in the styles of their idols and inspirations, but with the added realism of their own modern insecurities and faults.

Dave 1’s breathy voice and funky guitar is excellently combined with the keyboard, talkbox and synthesizer stylings of P-Thugg. Dave belts out Motown, funk, rock, disco, hip hop and R&B inspired vocals while strumming funk and rock guitar parts, while P-Thugg synthesizes like he’s got a quota to meet (the duo apparently employs an “unprecedented analog arsenal”). The album also features famous friends Solange, Toro y Moi, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. Mtume’s Tawatha Agee serves as backup vocalist for a couple of tracks, while Steely Dan’s string conductor Rob Mounsey adds the finishing touches to a few more.

Chromeo pays homage to your favourite sounds from each decade, starting with the ’50s and fist-pumping all the way to the present. They certainly linger in the ’80s, and make a stopover in the ’90s, before choosing to settle down in the flashiest, shiniest decade most deserving of the name Chromeo. You WILL develop ’80s fever at some point during the album, but luckily there is more than enough cowbell featured to treat the condition.

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Album opener and hit single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” begins with a twangy, pop-infused and modern guitar riff and a beat that reminds the listener of Eric Prydz’s “Call on Me” – and the ’80s workout video that goes along with it. P-Thugg originally thought the track was “too Katy Perry” but the song has been compared to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with its blend of funk-infused guitar riffs, high energy beats, and high falsetto.

The video for “Jealous” makes the band out to be this year’s LMFAO, with folks dressed in wacky ’80s inspired clothing and the duo surrounded by neon lights throughout their goofy adventures. However, the decade isn’t a trendy throwback for Chromeo – it’s a lifestyle and an inspiration. Like Jay and Silent Bob, Dave 1 struts around like a struggling lady-killer and P-Thugg is the strong and silent comic relief who proves to be the brains behind the operation.

 

The second track (and single off) of White Women is the funky “Come Alive”, with a guest appearance from Toro y Moi. The video for “Come Alive” Dave 1 in a Michael Jackson-inspired red leather jacket, suitably singing MJ-esque melodies. Breathy shudders and ear-piercing highs are almost lost within the quirky keyboard beat, but Toro’s unique voice helps to bring a new dimension to the track.

 

In “Over Your Shoulder”, Dave lowers his register for the beginning of the song in an unexpected twist, but quickly resumes his falsetto layered with female vocals for the chorus. Lots of keyboard and a Bee Gees-sounding bassline lead into riffs seemingly transplanted from a Pink Floyd song. “Sexy Socialite” has a Felix Da Housecat beat, and features talk-singing vocals à la Cake or Talking Heads as well as the instrumentals and effects of an ELO track. All of this is combined with (of course) a falsetto chorus, a fumbling rap verse, and more surprisingly, a Nicki Minaj soundalike arguing with Dave 1 over her status as a ‘Sexy Socialite’. Finally the vocoder takes temporary control before the song fades out in a whisper.

The next track “Lost on the Way Home” features Queen B’s sister herself–Solange Knowles. Usually the sister of a queen is called a princess, but this collaboration proves that Solange rules in her own right as Empress. “Lost on the Way Home” layers her pitch perfect, R&B inspired vocals together, adding tambourine, piano, drums, and of course a funky guitar riff to create a cinematic and catchy beat. Dave 1 croons between Solange’s interludes, backed by sci-fi sounds and dropping beats, but Solange steals the show.

 

Duran Duran fans will appreciate Dave 1’s vocal pacing in “Play the Fool”. This track begins with the most ’80s beat imaginable, transitions into a techno beat with disco influences, and continues to add layer after layer of nostalgia atop a quick-paced drum beat. Listeners are reminded of everything from Sonic the Hedgehog levels to ELO songs. A softer song on the album, “Hard to Say No”, is as light as bubblegum pop. Rob Mounsey leaves his recognizable impression on the easy-listening, electronic disco track.

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend contributes the piano-led, bittersweet Ezra’s Interlude”. His slow piano and warm voice are joined by the electric stylings of P-Thugg, and husky backup vocals by Dave 1, but overall the song is short and sweet. Unfortunately, it ends as abruptly and inexplicably as it begins.

Old 45’s” begins with a familiar beat that’s half “99 Luftballons” and half “Thriller”. The song is classic ’80s pop-rock with a toe-tapping beat until  they surprise you with a softer chorus, “If you think romance is dead and gone/Find an old jukebox full of 45’s/Pop a nickel in it and it all comes back”. Add in a guitar solo and an ending that has Dave pleading “Dance with me”. The combined sentimentalism and nostalgia means we’ve found this year’s prom song.

 

Surely the recording session of “Somethinggood” had at least one person screaming MORE COWBELL! Another song filled with funky guitar riffs and synths with masterfully intertwined vocals from Dave 1 and Tawatha Agee.. The song’s quick pace builds to a crescendo of voices panting the chorus before settling into a slower and funkier beat, gently fading out.

By this point in the album, so much synth has been used, you might start to wonder if Chromeo is really comprised of two androids. In Frequent Flyer”, Dave goes full Mr. Roboto, kept company by a larger-than-life chorus provided by Agee. The band claims the “pulsating” Frequent Flyer “offer[s] moments that would make Hall & Oates and Wham green with envy.”

The final and second longest track on the album, Fall Back 2U”,  is a song entirely too easy to shuffle and clap to. Chromeo even helpfully includes the clapping sounds in their song, so dancing on a light-up dance floor is made that much easier. Paired with a saxophone and strings, it’s easy to imagine John Travolta or Michael Jackson dancing to this infectious beat. Eventually a vocoder changes the song into a more Daft Punk-inspired beat complete with repeating syllables, synth, rosbotic voices and all.

 

If P-Thugg and Dave are Jay and Silent Bob, then White Women is a coming-of-age story spanning several decades in the theme of Clerks: it’s funny, low-brow at times, borders on being offensive to women, but is also brutally honest and real. “White Women perpetuates and elevates Chromeo’s existing blueprint: sexy funk, ass-targeting beats, melodic honey, and smart lyrics about the foibles of contemporary love,” claims the band.  Their lyrics vary from song to song in order to match the decade and genre they hope to emulate, but overall they are simplistic and predictable, while also being heartfelt and genuine, and a little crude, much like a teenage love letter.

Chromeo has just announced their new tour, taking place this fall. The Frequent Flyer Tour will include dates in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton.

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Check out Chromeo!

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Author: Sarah Gordier

School Damage: Fixed By Hooliganism

19 Jun
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School Damage. From left to right: Brad Manners, Curtis Tone, Jonathan Cabatan. Photo Credit: Nathan Mills.

Today’s modern punk favourites are thrash hybrids that have merged and replaced yesteryear’s explosive success in death metal and hardcore.  While many have left the alternative scene for the obnoxiously flourishing EDM craze, there is at least one more reason for Toronto punks to bust out their weathered, patched, leather and jean jackets, and that reason is School Damage.

School Damage are a very refreshing reminder for the modern crossover bands that you don’t need to be negative and violent to be punk. Real punk is about being an individual, having fun, and not being fazed by the opinions of others. With each release, School Damage bring punk back to its original roots.

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School Damage – School Damage (2012).

According to their Bandcamp, School Damage define themselves as “Ramones-core” and “pop punk”.  For the young, possibly confused circle pit warriors reading this, the latter  label references the ’80s iteration of pop punk: fun, short, and having immature reasons to skank the hell out and criticize the status quo. Personally, I enjoy Blink-182 and think Man Overboard’s drummer is extremely talented, but the modern day definition of ‘pop punk’ has become subliminally interchangeable–music that concerns being sad about girls, while in a major key with gang vocals and diet-cola breakdowns. Yes, it turns a profit on the angsty and ex-deathcore crowd, but it is not philosophically punk.

This dedication to an ideology is evident in how School Damage price their two albums on Bandcamp: three dollars apiece. Their self-titled 2012 release does indeed have a Ramones-esque groove to it in terms of structure. School Damage has a distinct kick in attitude, but several play-throughs of this album had me thinking how much the band would benefit from refining their style.

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School Damage – Get Weird (2013).

Which is something they would do so in their next release, 2013’s Get Weird. There is a definite growth in style, most notably in the vocal delivery which sounds like ’90s (read: the good) AFI. The song that gave me this impression was the first track, “678 Bathurst St.”, which according to Google is the address of their record label, My Fingers! My Brains!.

 

Some of this improvement may be credited to superior mixing, but there is definitely more exploration guitar-wise from Brad n Manners, and a definite boost of confidence in the fury that is the drummer Curtis Tone. While the energy was in there in School Damage’s self-titled release, all of the drumming in Get Weird is faster and more unpredictable.

My favourite track is See You Next Tuesday (also an obligatory “ha” at that reference). This righteous rebellion against precarious employment stirs a teenage fury that I haven’t felt since the first time I discovered Dead Kennedys and Choking Victim.

 

This 7” sounds excellent and I hope to hear more from all the musicians on further releases. Don’t forget that all of School Damage’s music is being streamed for free at schooldamage.bandcamp.com.

 


Check out School Damage!

Bandcamp.

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Author: Alex Slakva