Sunday, January 1, 2012

Coco Morier - EP (Album Review)

Folks who have given a listen to any or all of Britney Spears' more recent albums may have noticed a preponderance of album tracks that are interesting and often quite good. This is unusual in the pop era, where albums by singles artists like Spears generally contain a few smash hits, a handful of backup/would-be singles, and some tissue paper - filler, we call it, which is essentially a nicer word for "crap." But certainly since her fourth album In The Zone, the crap has all but left the building (with a few exceptions, all of them on Circus). In its place are tunes written not by studio formulists but by talented and intriguing writers, often performers of indie-pop, rock, R&B, or electronica in their own right. These writers aren't called in just to pen a quick and easy hit (although some, like Bonnie McKee, Keri Hilson, and the legendary Cathy Dennis, are skilled in both arenas) - they're called in to give Spears something interesting worth her, and our, time.

One of these is Nicole Morier, whose songs include "Heaven on Earth" (Blackout), "How I Roll," "Trip to Your Heart" (Femme Fatale), and "Whiplash," the tune co-written with Spears that ended up as one of the many highlights of Selena Gomez and the Scene's excellent album When the Sun Goes Down. Morier has performed with the band Electrocute, and now she's released a stellar solo EP (as Coco Morier) that not only shows why she succeeds for Britney Spears but how her work with Spears has helped make Morier into indie-pop dynamite.

Coco Morier's particular quirks that show through her work for Britney Spears are on full display on this five-track EP: the celestial imagery; poetic or absurdist situational metaphors; and ethereal, hazy vocal filters (all five tracks feature the same technique, some more pointedly than others). That last is a stylistic element perfectly suited for singers like Spears and Selena Gomez, husky-voiced altos more concerned with mood and feel than showing off their range and accuracy with melisma and vocal acrobatics. The novelty of Morier's vocal filtering fades into acceptance by the second or third song, but it does continue to benefit Morier the length of the set. It freees her, in a way, to approach different emotional areas without the risk of landing on the wrong side of the sentimental line.

This is particularly helpful on a song like "Ambulance," a textually sorrowful song with which Adele could sell out a Kleenex store but which would probably come across as contrived or pathetic coming from Beyonce or Katy Perry. Morier manages to pull off the song without it defining her, or her defining the song, which allows the listener to be the one feeling the emotions if they resonate or appreciating the lyrical and musical setting if they don't. When Sarah Vaughn or Billie Holliday sang about pain, even if it wasn't their own pain, the pain belonged to them, not the audience; when Ella Fitzgerald did it, the pain belonged to whomever felt it. It's not an easy thing to pull off, but Morier does it.

Heartbreak isn't Morier''s topic, though, and the rest of the EP is more an exploration of mood than emotion (much like Britney Spears). It's all very groovy, whether it be the warmer, rock-based "Explosions" and "Player of Love" or the cooler, electro-tinged "My Satellite" and "Journey to the Center of the World," and that makes for a smooth and cohesive listen that just becomes more enjoyable with familiarity (also like Spears). "My Satellite" is somewhat reminiscent of Jessie and the Toy Boys' first single "Valentine," although where the latter plays up the melodrama as a means of transcending expectation, the former embraces Morier's floating, spacey filtered haze as suitable to the lyrical theme. One wonders whether the two newcomers might find themselves limited by their stylistic performance personae once it's not as feasible to write songs so expressly custom-fit for them, but there's enough intelligence and skill in evidence on these custom-made pieces to suggest there's more here than just a lucky combination.

"Journey to the Center of the World" may be the proof, if it's needed: it's the most interesting song on the set, if just shy of the best (more on that in a moment). It's certainly the most ingeniously produced - it's a song called "Journey to the Center of the World" that isn't literally about a journey to the center of the world (barely even using the metaphor), yet as the introduction, in which Morier sings "We're gonna take the world and make it ours," fades and the verse approaches, the pizzicatto plunking of the production makes you feel like you've grabbed your hard hat and spelunking gear and are following her down into the core like a lemming. When she's singing about planets colliding and things coming "out of the blue," the music reifnorces the titular metaphor even though Morier has long since left it behind lyrically - and that's pretty badass. (The song contains my favorite lyric on the EP, "Rip the planets off the ceiling while we get down on the floor," which sounds even more awesome in context.)

"Journey to the Center of the World" has progressively won me over more and more, but the gold here is "Explosions." It's an expertly crafted and executed number that sounds deceptively edgy, yet in fact is built on a standard songwriting format. It's the kind of track that's hard to see having been made any better than it is, which is not terribly uncommon among well-produced pop songs, which engulf you so thoroughly from start to finish that you surrender your brain at the door. But instead of a complete captor, "Explosions" toys with you a bit, allowing the armchair critic to feel at first like a benevolent hotshot. "I would have saved the fully-produced chorus for later, but oh well, she's learning" - and then the second chorus IS minimally produced, making the middle eight an unexpected crescendo that's more than a bit effective. Then comes the double-chorus at the end: the first drops back into pre-bridge minimalism, with a kick-drum added in the second eight bars to build energy and anticipation for the full production chorus that carries that giddy energy to the end. Then it drops you in front of the moody, sensuous "My Satellite" primed to feel the pulsing energy of a tune that in a different context can be more relaxing trance-beat stuff but in sequence has an appealing sense of danger about it.

"Explosions" itself is inescapably pleasant, from the cheerfully optimistic lyrics (i.e. I'm into you even when you fuck everything up - the same headspace as Robyn's "Bum Like You" if musically different) to the faux-uber casual vocal to the occasional incidentals that gently up the "fun" quotient to the screaminly Britney-esque way Morier sings the title and rhyming words: "explo-ah-osion," which, in Morier's artistically affected British manages to rhyme with "oh-ah-over." (I imagine this would be the cause of Spears' "shattered gla-hee-ass.") It's a killer song that shows why Morier has been called the Britney Spears of indie pop.

Therein lies the rub: the influence of Britney Spears permeates the core of Coco Morier's fabulous debut EP, just as Morier's smart, indie-pop influence wafts like a delicious bakery scent from some of Spears' most interesting album tracks. Although nearly all of these songs could have made excellent numbers for Spears, Morier seems to have found her voice on this EP in a way that simultaneously separates her from Spears but also benefits from Spears' influence. I look forward to hearing more from Nicole Morier, as Coco or whatever name under which she chooses to deliver such enjoyable, listenable tunes with her obviously exploratory, entertaining musical sense. And with the Coco Morier EP, I believe we can forgive her for "Mmm Papi."


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...