British "Victorian Funk" meets Danger Mouse, Van Dyke Parks, and John Cale; cleans up its act; and becomes slightly less interesting.
The Shortwave Set's junk-shop pop might seem like an odd fit for Danger Mouse, but these Brits are apparently his favorite modern band, so he offered to produce its second album, Replica Sun Machine. Upon arrival in L.A., the group apparently proved charming enough to recruit both John Cale and Van Dyke Parks as collaborators. The result is unsurprisingly lusher than its marvellously ramshackle 2005 debut, The Debt Collection. Whereas part of the appeal of any given Shortwave Set song was how cunningly it was constructed out of disparate, odd parts (at one time the band was essentially something like a collision among the aesthetics of Broadcast, St. Etienne, and the Avalanches), Danger Mouse polishes up the band's sounds until no seams show. (Of course, a set of Van Dyke Parks string arrangements aren't exactly going to be "ramshackle" either.)
The songwriting gets heavy emphasis this time around, and at times, it triumphs. The album opener "Harmonia" along with "Replica" are nicely foreboding; the first single "No Social" is bitchy and catchy in equal measures; and the album closer "Downer Song" is surprisingly hummable given its mood and subject matter. However, too much of Replica Sun Machine is sonically pleasant but not terribly gripping, and the on-the-nose lyrics "House of Lies" can be a bit much. With the "Victorian Funk" of its debut gone, Shortwave Set is revealed as more traditionally classicist than expected, with both "Now 'Til 69" and "Yesterdays to Come" being sonically and thematically in debt to the '60s. As a set of lush, occasionally retro pop tunes, Replica Sun Machine proves fairly satisfying, but anyone who loves the more idiosyncratic, almost radical sound of the band's past work is going to be a little underwhelmed by what's here.