[13 December 2006]
When people first listen to Bubblewrapped, the second album from the Electroluvs, they are likely to think back to the ‘80s. This reaction is understandable, due to the band’s fascination with analog synthpop, but a little short-sighted. Sure, synthpop flourished in the ‘80s, but then, so did video games. If Gary Numan was the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Electroluvs are the latest breakthrough in gaming, the Xbox 360 of electropop.
The Electroluvs are a duo from Scotland, and they list their names only as Billy and Kaye. One can hear echoes of their compatriots in their vibrant music, whether in their Belle and Sebastian-like levity or in their Franz Ferdinand-ish danceability. What is interesting, however, is not how the Electroluvs sound like other groups, but how they build upon the work of previous artists and deliver new twists on a familiar pop subgenre.
Bubblewrapped kicks off with “First Rush”, which sounds something like a deranged Apple IIe getting ready to self-destruct. Billy sings this song, and his simultaneous urgency and playfulness sets the tone for the entire album. Billy’s capricious delivery constrasts the steadiness of Kaye, who takes center stage on track two, “Boy Don’t Bother”. Both singers are active throughout the rest of the album. Whenever Billy sings, Kaye hangs in the background, adding harmonies and echoing the melody. The two singers complement each other well, and the vocal interplay is one of the highlights of Bubblewrapped.
As the album develops, the Electroluvs demonstrate a remarkable range within their basic synthpop approach. “Over + Over” is an introspective ballad with a tremolo-washed guitar over sustained organ sounds. “On Thin Ice” features skittering electronic beats and driving dirty guitars. “Wicked Girl” has a slower tempo and sparser instrumentation than the other songs, and Kaye’s almost sinister-sounding voice carries the song.
“Teenage Timebomb” is probably the most radio-friendly track on Bubblewrapped. The highlight of the song is the chorus, where Billy sings the irresistibly catchy words, “Bing, bang, bong, you’re a teenage timebomb”. Although it’s undeniably poppy, Bubblewrapped is not bubblegum. The Electroluvs show spunk as they tackle a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Spooky”. They show real musical ability when they claim the song as their own, delivering a version that is both cocky and coy.
The Electroluvs are fascinated with the sonic intricacies of analog synths, but their success has nothing to do with fancy electronics. Instead, the Electroluvs stand out because of their mastery of basic musical elements, namely melody, harmony, and songcraft. Throughout the album, Billy and Kaye sing catchy tunes. The duo’s keen sense of melody is amplified by their ability to create punchy arrangements and write satisfying songs. Basically, the only thing more difficult than forgetting the songs on Bubblewrapped is not enjoying them.
In a time when indie pop can be as formulaic as its corporate-controlled radio sibling, a group like the Electroluvs is truly refreshing. The Scottish duo always sounds as though they’re having fun, but they manage to be playful without sacrificing their musical sophistication. The album should appeal to a wide range of listeners, from indie fans to nostalgic synth lovers to general pop listeners. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking a group that is so good-natured and just plain good. Bubblewrapped does not break any musical ground, and it is almost certainly not a great album. It is, however, full of great songs, and that is a significant accomplishment by itself. The album firmly establishes the Electroluvs as musicians with great promise. Hopefully, the duo will be able to deliver on that promise and keep writing and playing songs for years to come.