Fine, feel-good pop songs from the NASCAR-loving Detroit duo.
Si Hawkins 2012-05-30
From the clenched pose on the album cover you’d be forgiven for assuming that Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are another painfully arch synth act, with the requisite sneering fop up top and a keyboard player who looks about as pleased to be there as a former lawyer manning a supermarket checkout.
Thankfully this Detroit duo are enemies of arch, and are revelling in the unlikely success of their low-key studio project. Named after a popular racing driver and often sporting garish NASCAR gear on stage, they make fine, feel-good pop songs invariably wrapped in devilishly complex instrumentation. A corporate world it may be, but despite the major label backing this is hardly regular chart fodder.
The opener, Morning Thought, is a suitable statement of intent, sounding disturbingly like the moment where you click onto a website mid-track and wind up with two songs going at once, which in this case would be something by Animal Collective and one of The Charlatans’ more country-fuelled numbers. Cognitive dissonance abounds.
The sonic experiments began when electronica producer Joshua Epstein saw singer-songwriter Daniel Zott perform and pondered how their wildly different musical philosophies might combine. The results occasionally jar, when Epstein’s consistently elaborate productions overshadow the more pedestrian of Zott’s compositions, but generally the sum of their parts is an equation to be savoured, and frequently produces magic.
On Skeletons, Zott’s sweet pop song is further enlivened by some splendidly chunky beats, while the scattershot whirrs, clicks and crunches of If It Wasn’t You… don’t detract from a wonderfully simple melody. Elsewhere Epstein is content with more straightforward arrangements, notably on an ashamedly Beatles-like ditty called Simple Girl, the enjoyable rockabilly of the title-track, and Vocal Chords’ euphoric cod-calypso, which does admittedly wander free of its rhythmic moorings late on, to good effect.
Most invigorating of all is a version of We Almost Lost Detroit, Gil Scott-Heron’s protest song about a nuclear reactor’s near-meltdown in 1966. It’s a brave track to take on but they rattle through it with tremendous vigour, and no little soul, which tends to be the Detroit way. The reactor may be gone but that extraordinary city is still pumping out tremendous noise.