Filed under: album, review | Tags: charlotte richardson andrews, chew lips, unicorn
South London trio Chew Lips have had a rapid and auspicious rise into the public consciousness. Vocalist Tigs and multi-instrumentalists Will Sanderson and James Watkins formed the synth-pop outfit in 2008, lifting their floral pun of a name from a character in would-be IRA bomber Brendan Behan’s 1958 autobiographical account, Borstal Boy. They reportedly churned out an ambitious total of 10 songs at their first rehearsal and appeared on the BBC Introducing stage at the Electric Proms the same year at the personal invitation of DJ Steve Lamacq, who has continued to champion them with gusto. DJ Lauren Laverne and comedian Mathew Horne have also asserted themselves as big Chew Lips fans, the latter regularly Twittering enthusiastic praise and attending their live shows. ‘Play Together’, the first single from this debut album, reached a victorious #5 position in the club charts. But despite all these good signs, Unicorn remains a rather odd beast.
Chew Lips’ slick and steady-handed arrangements slip into the female-fronted, electro-pop zeitgeist of the late noughties with a sultry confidence, but trail into 2010 a little too late to really benefit from the energy of last year’s fire. Frontwoman Tigs delivers surprisingly soulful vocals throughout, showing a consistently pretty command, if not much in the way of versatility. It’s an accessible voice, giving the outfit a classic, almost too grown-up sound that conflicts with their modern electronica instrumentals. Lyrically, Tigs melts cryptic sweet nothings with an occasional streak of something darker, but like the album as a whole, things are far too safe to ever feel truly thrilling. There’s a pleasant pop vibe throughout Unicorn, and the bouncy guitar inflections of songs like ‘Toro’ and ‘Karen’ reveal one foot firmly tapping in the floppy-haired indie world, but it’s the elusive presence of darker elements that excite and disappoint in equal measure.
‘Gold Key’ ventures out of the prettiness and into some poetically bleak lyrical images, and there are slices and waves of alternative synth moments throughout that suffuse the songs with a promising edge. Sadly, these tantalising sonic reeds continuously yield to the tide of trendier, indie disco-pop, leaving a frustrating sense of unfulfillment. It’s obvious the band can do radio-friendly chart noise with their hands tied, but edging into the more leftfield sounds that Unicorn only hints at would have been the bolder direction.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 01/02/10; www.myspace.com/chewlips
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