-->
Music

Chew Lips: Unicorn

Unicorn leaves you with the curious feeling of having had your expectations merely met, when you were sure they would be surpassed.


Chew Lips

Unicorn

Contributors: Tigs, Will Sanderson, James Watkins
Label: Kitsuné
UK Release Date: 2010-02-01
US Release Date: 2010-01-25
Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Chew Lips. Say it. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Still, it's one of those names that's so bizarre you won't be able to help but remember it, regardless of the kind of music they make or how good they are. Depending on your mood, it could sound like a flower or it could sound like cannibalism. There's not really any in between. Oddly, the ugly/beautiful dynamic of the trio's chosen name is entirely opposite from that of the music they make. Their first album is called Unicorn, and as far as synthpop goes, it is utterly and completely middle-of-the-road.

There's nothing obviously wrong with Unicorn, an album that is in fact quite enjoyable in short bursts. Opener "Eight" is a signal that, perhaps, this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill synthpop group. They choose to worm their way into your ears rather than blast you out of the gates. "Eight" is a slow burn, starting quiet and eventually turning into something you could dance to.

What starting slow allows Chew Lips to do is introduce us right off the bat to the voice of Tigs. So many synthpop groups opt for robotic vocals that intentionally eschew emotion, while others go with vocalists who specialize in airy wisps, floating over the top of the robotics below. Tigs is different. She's a shapeshifter, adept at redefining her approach ever so slightly whenever the situation calls for it. She carefully eases into every word as "Eight" seeps into the speakers with barely a beat behind it. She soars into the stratosphere as she plays the part of disco diva on "Karen". She pushes out the vocal equivalent of a strut on the Franz Ferdinand-esque "Toro". Her voice doesn't change so much as her attitude does, and the ability to adapt to whatever Will Sanderson and James Watkins are giving her to work with makes Unicorn one of the smoothest synthpop listens in recent memory.

While listening to it is a fine experience and a good way to kill a half-hour, there just aren't all that many melodies worth remembering. "Two Hands" is lovely synth balladry, but you just keep waiting for that transcendent moment when it surpasses your expectations by building on its chorus or changing the formula of its verse. That moment never happens, and you're left with the curious feeling of having had your expectations merely met, when you were sure they would be surpassed. The appropriately named "Slick" has some beautifully slippery percussion, but Tigs never deviates from the melody that she establishes the first time she sings the chorus.

This is the problem throughout Unicorn. These songs all sound like they're going to turn into something special, but only one or two actually do. Sanderson and Watkins are certainly competent programmers, and Tigs is a hell of a vocalist, but they haven't figured out how to push their songs into the sort of territory that's going to guarantee we remember it. "Karen"'s huge pre-chorus will be enough to make it solid mixtape fodder, and "Seven" has enough swagger to just about carry the album, but other than that pair of five-letter standouts, it's all pretty rote.

Unicorn is framework. It's a band getting comfortable with itself, it's an act of stripping songcraft down to its bare essentials. It only needs a little push to place itself amongst the greats. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait for at least one more album from the trio to hear that push.

6
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image