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cirKus Laylow Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Uninspired and smoothed to an unpleasant sheen.

Louis Pattison 2008

Sweden-based pop collective, cirKus, are, in effect, Neneh Cherry's (and husband, Burt Ford's) latest project. They make guitar music steeped in the blissed-out spirit of downtempo, ethereal vocal harmonies and languid raps. Woven amongst them is a blurry mix of acoustic guitars, electronic beats, and turntable loops and scratches – think fellow Scandinavians Kings Of Convenience, or Turin Brakes at their most zoned-out and ambient. Far from being relaxing terrain, however, such territory comes with numerous pitfalls. Rely too much on synthetic, studio textures and you risk sounding clunky and sterile; add too much flowery instrumentation and you risk smoothing out all the rough edges that made early trip-hop classics like Portishead's Dummy so compelling. cirKus dodge the former trap, but barrel straight into the latter. You can tell from the proficient instrumentation and husky, on-key vocals that these people know what they're doing, but too often Laylower has the feel of session musicians playing their role to the letter (an impression born out by the fact that disc two contains the same songs fleshed out by, yawn, a live band).

It doesn't help, either, that the songs themselves are pretty bad. You're Such A… is a poison pen letter to some hapless yuppie that boasts lyrics every bit as cringeworthy as the behaviour it describes (''You're such an asshole/You think you’re fantastic/Bet you drive a sports car/Probably got a small dick''). Starved, meanwhile, embodies all those stoner clichés with its lyrics about "purple haze” and “smoking on the same flat spliff” sung in a reedy soul wobble. There are some neat moments here: take Fools, a cool, stripped-down number that hitches clipped drum machine sputter to melancholy strings, clear and unshowy vocals and an anonymous rapper whose tentative but headstrong rhymes remind a little of Tricky. For the most part, though, it's mostly uninspired and smoothed to an unpleasant sheen.

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