Chromeo: Business Casual

Photo by Tim Saccenti

Does Chromeo still sound exactly like the drive time mix on your local old school R&B station? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Not really.


Business Casual

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-09-20

You can justifiably call them unserious, kitschy, and too reverent of their mutual inspirations, but one thing is clear in regards to the combined efforts of Messieurs Dave 1 and P-Thugg: irony is not the driving force in Chromeo’s music. I admit, I was initially wary of the group's artistic intentions when its second album, Fancy Footwork (2007), became a college radio sensation out of fears that the Canadian retro-electro-funk duo was appropriating a genre of music I hold dear in my soul (uptempo ‘80s R&B) in an arch, ironic hipster manner instead of out of genuine affection. Ah, but that’s all in the past, as Dave 1 and P-Thugg have repeatedly asserted their sincere adoration of their source material in interviews, while infectious tunes like “Bonafied Lovin’” and “Needy Girl” have proven after repeated listens to be slamming jams in their own right. Now comes along Chromeo’s long-gestating third album, Business Casual, another ace assemblage of time-displaced R&B that recalls the best aspects of the days when jheri curls ruled the world.

Chromeo still won’t win any points for originally or distinctiveness; like its predecessors, Business Casual is thoroughly disinterested in inundating its listeners with anything not already a club hit between 1981 and 1986. As usual, Chromeo’s music is overstuffed with endless glistening keyboard riffs, sputtering synthesized basslines, robotic beats that still manage to groove naturally, and backing vocals delivered liberally via talk box. Given how deft it is in replicating the sound and spirit of its retro fascinations (it may be paint-by-numbers, but hell if isn’t pulled off exquisitely), Chromeo’s only real crime is that its approach is so authentically rooted (the duo frequently uses the same instrument equipment models utilized in hits from nearly 30 years ago) and all-encompassing, the band becomes pretty faceless if you drop its music in the middle of an “old school R&B” radio playlist.

The upshot of trawling through the past for reference points is the ability to fashion an aesthetic from the highlights. For the majority of its runtime, Business Casual booms with the allure of a greatest hits collection, and actually stands as a more consistent work than the full-length efforts of many of Chromeo’s influences. Those who downloaded the stellar lead single “Night by Night” (which kicks off with a strident, anthemic intro that sounds for all the world like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”) as a giveaway months ago will be pleased to discover that new cuts like “Hot Mess” and “Don’t Turn the Lights On” have just as much slick bounce. Do note that the record is not populated exclusively by pulsating synths: Dave 1’s guitar work remains the duo’s secret weapon, and listening to him rip up a storm on the solo to “Night by Night” is a keen reminder of the days when the R&B radiowaves were filled by people in bands.

Let me also take the time to comment upon Dave 1’s vocal stylings. He’s certainly no El DeBarge, but Dave 1 deals with limits of his vocal range by instead focusing on crafting a cool, understated delivery that is deft and smooth. As such, he’s able to partake in the grand modern R&B art of busting out frankly ridiculous come-ons (sample: “I’m not contagious / But I’ve got the kind of love that knocks you down”) in such a way that they become utterly convincing.

All is well and good on Business Casual until the record reaches the final three tracks, where Chromeo has deigned to conspicuously relegate its lesser material. The French language ballad “J’ai Claque la Porte” is a laudable failed experiment that finds Chromeo toying with swelling synth strings and acoustic guitar against a backdrop that vaguely recalls Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. Less defensible are “The Right Type” (Chromeo trades out ‘80s R&B for bland ‘80s MOR pop) and the closer “Grow Up” (where the pair crafts a rickety Billy Joel-style shuffle using the most annoying sounding instruments possible).

Personally, I can forgive Chromeo for fumbling near the end zone since the rest of Business Casual unfolds so strongly. At the end of the day, you really can’t blame the duo for impressing the hell out of a generation of hipsters too young and/or musically ignorant to know their Zapp from their Roger. It’s all been heard before, sure, but rarely with the focus and cheeky fun that Chromeo always brings to the party. By the way, do you know who I really feel sorry for? The poor bastard who tries to seal the deal with this record playing in the background (which will happen, because if Chromeo’s music is suited for any specific time of day, it’s love-making time). Everything’s all nice and sexy for the first half-hour, and then something that sounds like a rejected demo version of “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me” emerges from the speakers to kill the vibe. Don’t fret, bro, you can always just skip back to the start of the CD.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

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.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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

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