Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Music Review: Lindstrøm & Christabelle - Real Life Is No Cool

"When an artist goes about reinterpreting specific aspects of a foreign culture’s musical language, the results can be oddly striking. Norway’s Hans-Peter Lindstrøm has built a formidable career over the last decade or so by utilizing just such an approach; his brand of epic post-disco straddles early minimalism and vaguely sappy European synth to great effect. Similarly, one culture's spoken word filtered through another's can become something entirely different, and though Lindstrøm's reasoning may be totally unrelated, I can’t help but think that the title of his latest LP, Real Life Is No Cool, is somehow a comment on a similar form of happenstance wherein a broken form of English can actually interpret—and thus illuminate—what was once just a series of incidental words. In any case, Real Life Is No Cool represents yet another stage in the ever-evolving Lindstrøm sound.

Lindtrøm is traditionally known to work in long form thesis statements—his last solo record, 2008's still-awesome Where You Go I Go Too, stretched out just three tracks to almost an hour in length—but he's chiseled his latest set into easily approachable, almost pop-length variations on his recognizable space-disco sound. With this more structurally focused technique in place, it was perhaps inevitable that Lindstrøm would enlist prior collaborator Christabelle (formerly known as Solale) to handle the album’s vocal duties. It’s a pairing that has bore fruit before, on 2003 single “Music In My Mind” and again with 2007's "Let’s Practise” (purposefully sic’d as well, I assume), both anticipating the 47-minute full-length the duo has created here. The former was previously featured on 2006's It’s a Feedelity Affair, but both reappear on Real Life Is No Cool.

The initial release of these singles fueled speculation as to where Lindstrøm would take his particular sound in the future, and the remaining eight tracks of Real Life fulfill that promise. They also reiterate just how shrewd and brave an alchemist Lindstrøm really is, especially in this post-Daft Punk climate—the filtered synth whirls that introduce “Baby Can’t Stop” even sound like a knowing nod to our robotic French overlords. The previously noted theme of language and its place in a rapidly expanding technological society presents itself in Lindstrøm’s wild vox manipulations, which often times introduce and/or round-out these well sculpted tracks. We’re not quite talking Silent Shout levels of vocal affectation, but the disorienting lead-in to opener “Looking for What” utilizes a similar method of deconstruction, before opening up into a stuttering groove.

It’s odd to speak of this album in such distancing terms, particularly when the tone and overall feel of the record is one of welcoming warmth and unity. And in this regard, highlights abound; the first half of the record in particular is a single-minded stunner. The aforementioned “Looking for What” moves into the wickedly funky “Lovesick” (which would be a Song of the Year contender, if all were right in the world), before compressing the “space” end of Lindstrøm’s space-disco aesthetic for the drifting, sweeping “Let it Happen.” From there, the duo’s two early singles buttress the center of the album, before penultimate track “Never Say Much” cuts and edits the proceeding 30-plus minutes into a memory-stirring sound collage, perhaps further reiterating the album’s seeming obsession with language and its various utilities in a pop-oriented context.

If I had a criticism, it would be that Lindstrøm and Christabelle can’t quite keep up the momentum of this album's first half for its entire duration. “Let’s Practise” has always been one of the duo’s more obvious improv pieces, as Christabelle vamps out over one of Lindstrøm’s most rigid beat constructions. Which is fine in and of itself, but when followed by the album’s most traditional cut, “So Much Fun,” it accentuates the small degree of separation between this duo's concise disco-funk approach and the zeitgeist-baiting dance-rock of Cut Copy (not a good thing). But that’s a minor quibble, and Real Life Is No Cool never lets itself become anything less than listenable, with each individual piece containing enough headphones-worthy production flourishes to enrich the whole set. There's simply too much good material here to not wholeheartedly recommend this album, which could be taken as a positive or a negative, considering Lindstrøm's work habits—he'll undoubtedly move on to something else, soon enough. In that case, all we can do is enjoy the results of this particular collaboration, while anxiously looking forward to wherever Lindstrøm goes next." [78/100]
[Published 01.18.10]

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