Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Little Boots - "Broken Record" (Single Review)

Little Boots has been taking her sweet-ass time revving up for the eventual followup to her 2009 debut album, Hands, one which is now finally just over the horizon. To her credit, the UK-based electronic pop singer (née Victoria Hesketh) has kept her fans appraised of things by releasing samples of what she's been working on over the past year and a half - some in official final form and some at various stages of incompleteness, in a canny balance of transparency and wizardry expected of today's best pop stars. The latest of these is the sleek and mesmerizing "Broken Record," which may or may not be the lead single from the new album depending on how you define the term.*

Little Boots Broken Record Nocturnes

"Broken Record" is reminiscent of the house-influenced dance pop that Madonna and the Minogues (i.e. Kylie and Dannii, separately, although I may have just found the name for my cover band) were doing at the turn of the century. Synths of diverse array (and, briefly, strings) create a lush electronic landscape speckled with percussive effects of the clicking, clapping, and church bell variety, which add a touch of menace. The gimmick potential of a loop-heavy dance track called "Broken Record" is rich, of course, but certain moments veer toward the obvious: "I hear your voice like a brokenrokenrokenrokenroken record" doesn't so much evoke the skipping of a broken record as it just sounds like Little Boots singing "brokenrokenrokenrokenroken record" - even more so because of all the vocal chopping and splicing going on around it that really does create a broken record sort of vibe. But at least she doesn't try too hard to sell it on this point, and aside from one early instance she has the wisdom to avoid poaching "repe-pe-pe-pe-peat" from Selena Gomez and the deftness to avoid poaching from her own song called "Stuck on Repeat" apart from a quick name-drop that does however poach a bit from David Guetta/Jessie J's song called "Repeat." (This is not a subtle record.)

"Broken Record" has an unusual, chameleon-like quality that allows it to play differently in different spaces. In a small room, or on headphones, it's hypnotic and intimate, whereas in a crowded discotheque it would be simply massive. It's not just an issue of volume, it's the density and balance of large and small, harsh and light, masculine and feminine sounds, which allows the ear to pick up the aspects of the track that better fit the atmosphere in which it's played while the others take an unobtrusive backseat. In other words, it's a musical equivalent to a typical episode of "The Simpsons," in which two different strands of comedy - one witty and high-cult, the other cruder, slapstick low-cult - operate simultaneously, occasionally elevating one another but mostly just there to serve its particular segment of the audience. This is how two people with vastly different senses of humor are able to watch and appreciate the same episode in entirely different ways (and why there is a good case to be made for it being one of the greatest television sitcoms of all time). If I've lost you (which I'd easily understand), just go and listen to "Broken Record" in a small room and then ask your local dj to blast it at the club, and you'll get what I'm rambling on about.

Like her debut album, "Broken Record" is heavy on atmosphere, light on content, and very European. It happens to include a few of my personal favorite musical elements: close female harmonies, and unexpected major-minor chord changes - basically, the whole pre-chorus, the highlight being the last "free," which she holds for an extra two wavering bars at the end before the chorus makes its delayed entrance. "Broken Record" is Little Boots' best work since "Shake," its bigger, meaner companion piece and the first release of this long-gestating project, and with Nocturnes due to arrive on May 5, it appears we might have a formidable summer ahead of us on the dance floor.

* In any event, it's the one that's now available at all digital retailers. "Shake" debuted way back in November 2011 and served as a "holy shit Little Boots is making an album" reveal, although it is not presently available for sale; "Every Night I Say a Prayer" has been in stores since April 2012; "Motorway" was made available as a free download in February.

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