(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CD review - Emil & Friends, Lo & Behold (2011)

Dance pop sound matures to branch out into indie rock/pop

Emil & Friends have come a long way since last year's Downed Economy EP (review here). Emil Hewitt still shows his love for disco and dance pop on Lo & Behold, but he's expanded his diverse set of influences and improved his production. The new album is more polished to match Hewitt's matured sound. He's abandoned the retro, lo-fi '70s soul, but still manages to evoke the disco pop era on some of the tracks.

Where Downed Economy emphasized a stark electro disco vibe on its first track, Lo & Behold lays down a piano centered pop vibe. Flashback has a sweet Supertramp influence, especially on the keyboard intro, but it also evokes some of My Morning Jacket's flavor of retro pop. The lyrics pick up the story somewhere in the middle with little context, which creates a compelling itch:
On the flat screen television, when the cops come and break down the door
Reruns so analog, cross legged on the living room floor
As they step towards you with the handcuffs, to take you away
You flash back to the baby sitter turning it off, because it's rotting your brain
The song seems designed to keep you off balance. The laid back groove offers comfort even as the story triggers a cascade of questions. The music deconstructs as a heavy bass and beat grow more prominent creating their own flashback effect. A gratuitous, over-the-top guitar solo sets up a loose, floating outro. There's a flow, but it makes no sense. You're left with the sense that another time through might make it clearer. Still, with every listen, I smile and bop along. "Catchy" barely does it justice.

Emil & Friends call back to their earlier sound on tracks like C.U.P.I.D. and Rain Check. The relentless pop bounce of Rain Check sounds like an updated version of Prince's funk pop without the self-indulgence. The retro horn punches and modern electronic bass groove combine in a super-mutant pop. Where Downed Economy would have infused this song with a hazy, old time vibe, the sound here is clean and hip.

C.U.P.I.D. offers a slick electro disco feel, with grinding bass and processed vocals. Loaded with hooks, Emil slips in some great lines that the electro-pop synths might distract you from:
Warm and wet like a car wash cruisin'
Stronger than the stuff since you've be usin'
Sittin' on a car, just flappin' his wings
This little angel named C.U.P.I.D.
Lo & Behold is a great step forward for Emil & Friends. A better budget might account for the nicer production, but the band's writing and musical versatility have improved over the last year. Earlier, I warned off disco haters and and soul pop cynics. Now, even those listeners might find something to like.

For a taste, check out the electro disco of Crystal Ball (My Old Kentucky Blog) or the indie pop of Endless Waves (teaser on Vimeo).

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