Little Boots - Nocturnes

 3/10

There exist two separate worlds in the genre of pop music. There are the Ke$ha's, Will.I.Am's, Justin Timberlakes, Justin Biebers. And emerging in to the limelight are acts like LMFAO and Skrillex. The so called 'bubblegum' pop that keeps dancefloors active and ecstasy on teenage shopping lists. Then there is something called indie pop, which is an all encompassing umbrella term that touches on everyone from Phoenix to Bon Iver. Indie pop is pop music. It is highly listenable, sometimes danceable, and for reasons mostly unknown, embraced and celebrated by even the most elitist of hipster clans.

There isn't a huge difference between these worlds, which is why I say reasons mostly unknown. An act like Grimes, for example, could quite comfortably be considered amongst the bubblegum world, and yet she evidently shows just enough restraint to sneak under that radar and land in the crosshairs of the Pitchfork generation. This is where Little Boots comes in. Her debut album, Hands, caused a minor splash on the Billboard charts, but was admired more amongst the indie fraternity. Artists like Florence Welch, Lily Allen and of course Lady GaGa were dominating the pop landscape at the time, all slightly quirky, all heading left of centre. Little Boots fit perfectly in to a comfortable niche. Unobtrusive, enjoyable music that could play in the background at sunday sessions without intruding, and then turned up to 11 when the clock ticked past 10pm and everyone was ready to kick it up a notch.

In 2013 a vastly different world greets Nocturnes. One Direction, Mumford & Sons, Rhianna, Calvin Harris, David Guetta.. It is no longer a time to be making middle of the road pop music. Global megastars with sounds as big as their reputations roamed the airwaves in 2012, and Little Boots must've surely been observing the trend. Which is why Nocturnes is such a perplexing release. 4 years between records is an age in pop music, and there is only one true way to pull it off. That is to grow, evolve. At the very least create something of equal quality to your previous project. This is certainly not the case. Whilst admittedly she is not the most gifted of lyricists, tracks like Remedy brought enough energy to disguise and even enhance her slightly weak pop cliches. The production was top class. On Nocturnes, the tired pop cliches remain but are now backed by equally tired production.

Motorway is the high point. A smouldering midnight anthem that sounds like something from Miike Snow, the major chords and the scattered synth 'pops' are busy and dramatic at the same time. Hesketh, not the most gifted of vocalists, matches her voice perfectly to the hazy yet urgent atmosphere. Cheese like 'Together we can make our great escape / Meet me on the motorway / Maybe we can find our perfect place' fits snugly as it did on Hands, it's comfortable subject matter and it's simplicity resonates with the help of the more dramatic production. However, things fall away from here.

Rather than building and expanding on the urgency of Motorway, Nocturnes falls happily in to that tempo and remains there. But whereas the opening track is quite complex and extremely well arranged, the rest of the record feels like a cheap knock-off of it. Broken Record is an infuriatingly ironic song, unless of course Hesketh intends to mimic the central figure that she is pining for by copying their 'voice like a broken record'. The consequence is a song that bounces around inside your head in a wholly unpleasant manner. Shake achieves a similar level of annoyance. A Fisher Paykel beat that never fully reaches climax bumps away as we're instructed by Hesketh to 'Shake, la la la la la la'. What passes for a chorus these days.. This technique of repeating lyrics and silly bridging words like la la unfortunately drops Hesketh's musical IQ about 15 points. On Beat Beat, a nicely retro toned 'beat', reminiscient of something Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor might provide a remix album, is ruined with the repetition of 'beat beat beat of your heeeeeeeeaaart'. It's unfortunate, it could be one of the strongest tracks on the record.

Confusion puts forward the strongest case against this repetition of theme and lyric. 'Never lie to me again' is repeated over and over, as is 'I've been caught up in a lie', and 'confusion'.. If you were in any doubt as to what exactly is going through Hesketh's head this song will ensure you have absolutely no trouble remembering. Again the production falls flat, it just lacks an edge. It feels soft and rounded, too smooth. Every Night I Say A Prayer is a little more bullish, it is almost Eurythmics sounding (although Annie Lennox is incomparable), the addition of a tortured sounding piano to the chorus (similar to Motorway) provides that conflict, that urgency that compliments Hesketh's method. This is such a rare occurrence though. Strangers drifts in to such a dreamy dull lull that you almost miss the strongest lyrical work on the record. "We see ourselves like stars  / At once so close and yet so far  / Bodies so familiar  / We both would know them in the dark". It's actually a gripping and resonating description of a relationship that has drifted in to obscurity, and Hesketh yearns for the passion and fire of their first meeting again. It is the first time she actually sounds as though she's drawing on personal experience rather than observing events and stories from a distance.

Then we have the kicker. Crescendo may be the most innacurate title ever attached to a song. If there is one word that doesn't apply to Nocturnes it is Crescendo. It rolls along with all the attitude of a damp sock. Hesketh tries to inject something, and a meek attempt at replicating earlier chorus success with some piano chord bashing goes some way to appeasing. Essentially though this is as droopy as dehydrated corn stalk, and just as exciting.

We can expect a de-evolution of some degree, and even forgive it. No longer is Little Boots releasing music on a major label. Atlantic must have pushed her in to more mainstream channels on 2009's Hands, and surprisingly, as it isn't always the case, it made for a fuller more enjoyable record. Despite recruiting some star power for Nocturnes, notably James Ford from Simian Mobile Disco and Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair, the promise of a record that: 'celebrates 90s house, seventies disco and futuristic electronics' is largely unfulfilled. You could chastise her for not building on the success of Hands, not going down that mainstream path. Conversely, you can congratulate her on following her own artistic vision, which has led her to releasing a record on her own label, the kind of music she is comfortable and confident making. I'd be more inclined to congratulate her if I felt she had challenged herself to make a better record than Hands, the problem is I just don't think she has.

3/10. I really enjoyed Hands. I really liked Little Boots. I was excited when I saw this pop up on the wikipedia page for upcoming album releases. Weak production, repetitive lyrics, tired pop cliches and a general apathy plagues Nocturnes. It misses the dual boats of 5am come down record and 12am party starter. There is nothing much to grasp hold of in that middle ground.
Best Tracks: Motorway, Strangers



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