One potentially Very Important Album, three critical responses.
Critic #1 used a clumsy metaphor to express his feelings about the album.
There are a lot of pictures of Dani Siciliano on the Internet, but it's still difficult to really know what she looks like -- she hides under haircuts, she rarely looks straight into the camera, she holds things or hands in front of her face. She seems quite beautiful, physically, but she holds herself at arm's length from that beauty, not quite trusting it or understanding why it is relevant. Which it isn't, of course -- but we all end up looking anyway, don't we?
This is more or less the approach Siciliano takes on this album. She has a deep distrust towards the antiquated labels of "beauty" that we so often slap onto female performers, musically as well as physically. Her voice is a lovely instrument, capable of high drama and private tempests, but she manipulates it until it becomes pure sound. In this way, the beauty of her voice becomes sublimated, pressed into service in a higher cause: exposing the hypocrisy of pop music, highlighting the Big Lie of gender inequity. "Big Time" starts with Siciliano turning herself into a robot, and then only slowly allowing a real human voice, and a real human narrative, to emerge. At the end, the voice is all that remains.
It's telling -- but is she listening to her own message? She could more effectively start whatever revolution she wants by really letting herself open up enough to use that voice, instead of slathering ketchup and mustard all over it. This refusal to fully embrace her second-best asset ends up flying in the face of her best asset -- her brilliant mind. This dichotomy renders Slappers a frustrating and thrilling document, both empowering and slightly disappointing.
Critic #2 is obsessed with context.
Dani Siciliano's last album, Likes..., was a bold shotgun blast into the face of what she sees as a vapid pop landscape. It had micro-house (courtesy of her husband, British electrowizard Matthew Herbert) and pointillist experimental pop, it was raw and it was cooked, it was one of the best albums of 2004. And it augured well for the future.
Slappers follows a similar format -- each track seems to start from a basic structure, and is then deconstructed to within an inch of its life. But everything is ramped up here. The feminism that was an undercurrent before is now a major theme. The title track is a call to arms for young women to stop letting men define them and to take control of their own destinies; since "slappers" is British slang for ugly and/or promiscuous young women, she forms the percussion line out of the sound of her and her friends' asses being slapped. (Cheeky! Sorry. I'll get me coat.) At the other end of the album is "Be My Producer", a paean against all-too-powerful male music executives who only see young women as interchangeable cogs in the machine. Here, she makes the music as robotic as possible... even though 90 percent of it is formed out of her own voice!
In the course of this 44-minute album, Dani gets down with the freak-folk movement ("Why Can't I Get You High"), gets down with funky hip-hop grooves ("Didn't Anybody Tell You"), and comes up with new twists on indie pop (the 6/4 "Too Young"). It is comparable to this year's other triumphs by intelligent young female artists: Cibelle's The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves and OOIOO's Taiga... although it might be too wispy and conceptual to stand up to those records.
Critic #3 makes it all about him.
I wanted to believe in you, Dani Siciliano. I loved Likes.... I love all the stuff you've done with Matthew Herbert. I love the whole art-chick, take-no-shit, American-in-London vibe you have going on. I've been waiting for this record for more than two years. I already had a spot reserved for Slappers on my all-time top ten list.
But this record is not what I needed from you. I was all ready for Big Pop Move: 2006, where you would harness all your hooks and gifts and turn them into pure radio-friendly goodness. Instead, you've gone overboard with the murk and the confusion that (slightly) marred your earlier work. Why are you hiding your light under a bushel basket?
For example: I can hear a huge monster smash in "Think Twice". Sure, it's hiding under all the clinky-clanky wankery of the track, all that noise that you are so fond of -- but it's there nonetheless, all the drama and build and sharpness of any Beyoncé or Amerie track. I wouldn't even have you tone down the anger that seems to inform the song's attack. Just shave off about six layers of interference and let that beautiful melody shine through, sister-girl!
There are similar things happening all over the disc. "Wifey", which is buried at the end of the album, has the potential to be a big song, especially with that whole awesome break going on in the middle. Why not bring in Dallas Austin or LCD Soundsystem to do a remix? It'd blow away 98% of everything else out there, and you know it. It's funny that on "Be My Producer" you equate "producer" with "seducer", probably in a bad way; don't you know that seduction can be fun? Especially when it might bring your songwriting talents to a massive global audience?
Why are you so afraid of making me happy? Why are your albums all about the inside of your head, instead of the inside of my heart? WHY DONT YOU LOVE ME DANI SICILIANO? WHY DO YOU ONLY LOVE YOURSELF? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BRAIN?