Now that Coburn has released its debut self-titled full-length on Great Stuff Records, it suddenly seems unfair to lump them into the house scene with which they have been associated since taking that scene by storm with the incredible “We Interrupt this Programme” in 2005. It would be tough enough, based on timing alone, to call a 19-track, 49-minute album a house album, by virtue of the length of the typical house track, but even ten minutes—hell, five minutes of actual listening would make it perfectly clear that, at least for this album, Coburn has left house behind.
The style that Coburn has adopted, then, is a still-danceable sound that could only be called “pop”, though it’s far from bubblegum. This is the sort of pop that dabbles in genres as if they’re dishes at an all-you-can-eat buffet, fearlessly incorporating hip-hop, dance-pop, rock, and yes, house elements into their sound while constantly retaining a sort of detached humor about the whole thing. The sounds they use buzz and bop all over the stereo spectrum, a wide range of vocalists, give us something to sing along to, and the beats never leave any doubt as to who’s really in charge. The result is an infectious grab bag that treats nothing (including Coburn’s own backcatalogue) with reverence, but everything with respect.
The first five tracks lay out the groundwork. After a brief intro, “Sick” establishes itself as an incredible little dance-hip-hop track with Princess Superstar and Icelandic vocalist Heidrun putting down an ode to the butterflies of a burgeoning relationship, while Solid State puts down a pointless-if-entertaining little ode to himself. “Closer” is a short burst of broken electro-funk, while “Razorblade” sees Heidrun making a play at Annie and Kylie for the title of indie kids’ pop diva of choice. A very short, very sweet version of the hit that made them finishes out the big starting five, as this version of “We Interrupt this Programme” brings Solid State back for an encore of his “Sick” performance, spitting fire for a couple of minutes before the track just ends and turns into something else. It’s an acknowledgment and a leaving behind of a past merely two years old, making those two years feel like a lifetime past.
The freedom that Coburn obviously feels after making such a bold statement with its own song becomes obvious as the rest of the album progresses. Sub-one-minute transitional tracks about, and the proper songs are all over the map. “Give Me Love” and “Tallulah” showcase Heidrun’s lovely voice just a little more, the former shamelessly evoking Donna Summer (big, thumping beats and all) and the latter deconstructs the singsongy little ditty more commonly known as “My Name is Tallulah” into a shimmery pop song that might just be a little bit too precious for its own good.
Rock ‘n’ roll even gets a couple of nods, what with “I Get My Kicks” and “Edge of a Knife” employing live guitars, handclaps, and swaggering vocals from the men of Coburn themselves. It’s hard to tell whether “I Get My Kicks” is satire or homage to the sort of Billy Idol-esque testosterone that it evokes, which hurts it somewhat, but “Edge of a Knife” is masterful, slithery noir-fodder that might make Jim Thirlwell proud with its distorted beats, heavy strings, and perfectly reedy vocal style.
The album that Coburn has assembled here is ultimately wonderful and schizophrenic, which actually works for and against it. For one, it’s terrific to hear a duo so in tune with itself and so imbued with confidence as to be willing to try anything that pops into its head. On the flipside, however, is the fact that throwing so many darts is going to result in a few missed bulls-eyes. “Tallulah” and “I Get My Kicks” are as well-constructed and well-produced as anything else, but they don’t capture the imagination that most of the rest of the album does. Perhaps worst of all, “Erase” closes the album on an atypically down note with spoken word and a David Bowie circa Outside sense of atmosphere, killing the buzz of a tremendously up album. Regardless of the missteps, however, those with an interest in anything (or everything) electronic, would do well to seek out Coburn, one of the strongest, and perhaps the most overlooked of the electronic releases of last year.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.