Minipop's debut album is all very pretty, but the dreamy feel of A New Hope is so all-encompassing as to render it frustratingly distant and cold where it could radiate poppy warmth.
Minipop is a deceptive name. You might well expect the bearers of such a moniker to be Deerhoof-esque quirkophiles or, failing that, manufactured teeny-boppers. In reality though, they peddle indie-pop of the sultry, melancholy variety, all wistful sighs and serious facial expressions. It's difficult to dislike Minipop; their music, overflowing with sweet melodies and completed by Tricia Kanne's silken vocals, emanates a certain warmth and approachability. Unfortunately, it's just as hard to love them, too. Because while A New Hope finds melodies easy to come by, it often does so at the expense of emotion, rendering it lacking in personality and distinction. Indeed, there's frustrating lack of feeling pervading over this, Minipop's debut offering, which can leave the listener feeling distinctly cold, despite its picturesque charms and accessibility.
Not that A New Hope is a bad album, per se. BBC muso Steve Lamacq may have been guilty of wild exaggeration when he referred to opener "Like I Do" as "one of the best five songs in the world today", but there is admittedly plenty going on here to like. Said track's swirly keyboards and simple-but-effective guitar, combined with a Kanne's childlike vocal delivery make it a highlight, as is the restrained catchiness of "Generator"'s hazy chorus line.
Musically, imagine a slightly more organic Metric; minus one part electronica and plus one six-string. But where Metric revel in Emily Haines's ability to swoop from sultry cool to heart-rending peaks at will, Minipop find Kanne stuck in the same gear for the duration of their debut long-player. Call it understatedness if you wish, but A New Hope undeniably suffers from its single-minded inability to change tempo or mood. Indeed, Kanne's delivery is so persistently languid that you begin to suspect her indifference to the whole affair; the album is, almost without exception, an exposé of melancholic sighing; a dreamy gaze into space. This wouldn't necessarily be a band thing if such lamentation was confined to a lyrical, or even vocal, sphere, but unfortunately the music, too, follows suit, plodding along where it should be zipping, opting for comfort rather than excitement.
Take "Ask Me a Question", for instance. A flower-scented love song at heart, it could be achingly affecting, but instead, despite Kanne's sweet-as-sugar delivery, its flavourlessness renders it merely nice. The only time Minipop truly come close to transcending this 'mere' prettiness and truly making it into beauty instead, is in the yearnful star-gazing of "Wearing Thin", where Kanne's wistfulness ebbs, flows and finally swells into the finale we've been waiting for. Sadly, it is only a brief venture into more colourful territory, and come the smooth but unremarkable sighs of succeeding track "Fingerprints" we are back on the familiar ground.
To be fair, Minipop do perk up for a brief respite from disconsolation, but unfortunately when the cycle is broken it is in the form of the saccharine pop chirpings of "Butterflies", which is at times so lyrically infantile ("I see your eyes/ wide awake and/I love your eyes/They're so amazing") that you begin to wish Kanne would revert back to melancholy. The naive simplicity of "Like I Do"'s chorus ("Who loves you like I do?") is endearingly effective; here it is eye-rollingly juvenile.
All in all it's a wasted opportunity -- the majority of the ten tracks here have decent, sometimes great, melodies at their core, and Kanne's snow-soft vocal delivery is undeniably held up by considerable talent. But with Minipop's speed of choice seemingly stuck as 'plod', A New Hope is a frustrating listen that makes you wish they'd opted to ply just some of the incessant languidness with a shot or two of adrenaline. It all makes for very easy listening, and, if that's all you want, then fair enough, but when the band clearly have the talent for more than this, its difficult not to find the lack of variety and verve in this record infuriating.