Thursday, June 12, 2008

Record Review: Electric President

Electric President
Sleep Well
[2008, Morr Music]

Sleep is supposed to be a welcome haven, a respite from the troubles of the day that most people relish. It’s a time of growth, change, and regeneration. After listening to Sleep Well, the latest from Florida duo Electric President, it seems that singer and principle songwriter Ben Cooper probably doesn’t look forward to retiring to bed at night. The album examines the universal themes of maturation, mortality, and identity, through the very personal lens of one man’s dreams, dreams that most often descend into nightmares.

            Trepidation permeates the lyrics through the course of the album. It stems from a seeming hesitancy to accept anything absolute or permanent. Creatures are always peering out from the closet, threatening to steal the singer away into darkness. Even in “Lullabye”, after the singer reassuringly declares that “bad dreams are nothing special; they happen all the time”, he quickly adds, “At least I think so”. As Sleep Well progresses, Cooper seems ambivalent to impending change, unsure if he should fight it, or quietly acquiesce. “Robophobia” is fast and desperate, as if the singer feels surrounded by what he fears becoming (“they don’t know just what it means to lose some things that you cannot get back. And now I’m terrified of what they lack.”) He tries to stop what’s coming (“and you tried to stop them, but there were too many. You did what you could.”), but, consistent with a theme of the album, there’s no escape from the inevitable.

            It’s amazing how much more mature the duo sound in the absence of a bell kit. The perennial indie-pop staple has been wisely relegated to the toy chest for Sleep Well. The expansive musical breadth of the album is apparent before even a minute of the first track has elapsed. “Monsters” begins with swelling flurries of guitar around stark, minor synth chords. Cooper’s delicate, barely-above-a-whisper vocals are an innocent, pure contrast to the dark musical surroundings.  Most of the instumental elements of S/T (sans bell kit) return for this release. Though the feel is vaguely familiar, the charmingly haphazard sound of the debut has become much more precise. Sumptuous washes of shoegaze guitar and synth are featured prominently on nearly every track (they sound particularly striking on “lullabye” and “We Will Walk Through Walls”), as do atmospheric synth pads in the vein of those on Brian Eno’s Apollo album. A combination of skittering, glitchy clicks and dry, acoustic drums bring solid, propulsive rhythms to “Robophobia” and “Lullabye”.

            Other than a much heavier reliance on synthesizers, a notable progression from S/T to Sleep Well is heard in Cooper’s vocals. He still retains the boyish tenor heard on the debut, but it’s the addition of beach boys-esque vocal lines that really sets this album far beyond S/T. Though a comparison to the perpetual pop touchstones may seem banal, it’s definitely merited here. The soaring falsetto melodies and warm harmonies towards the end of “We Will Walk Through Walls” sound like they would be right at home on Pet Sounds.

            “All the Bones” and “When It’s Black”, though good songs, don’t feel right on the album. “Bones”, with its exotic sound, doesn’t adhere to the album’s aesthetic, and disrupts the otherwise great pacing. “Black”, with its dirty, overdriven guitars and garage rock drums, is cumbersome and out of place. The song acts as a conclusion of sorts, with bleak lyrics sealing the narrator's fate by the end of the track. 

          Sleep Well does not disappoint. The vocal melodies are infectious, and the layers of synthesizers lend a sense of fullness to the entire recording. Other than a few missteps, the album displays much growth from Ben Cooper and Alex Kane. The scattershot feel of S/T has been supplanted by a cohesive, more focused sound, a style that Electric President has grown into comfortably.

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