Music

Robots in Disguise: self-titled

Hunter Felt

Robots in Disguise

Robots in Disguise

Label: Recall
US Release Date: 2004-06-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The two members of the British electro-pop band Robots in Disguise call themselves Sue Denim and Dee Plume. Denim and Plume not only sing about their D.I.Y. art, but actually throw it to their audiences. They also like to sing a lot about the fact that they are in a band called Robots in Disguise. It is a credit to their talent that Robots in Disguise manage to create a stylistic art-school sound where these potentially aggravating tendencies seem acceptable. These facts, however, reflect the main flaw in this potentially great album: the band's dedication to style, particularly self-reflexive lyrics and wayward genre hopping, over substance. All this abundant cleverness never manages to cohere into definitive statements.

Listening to Robots in Disguise's self-titled debut album makes me feel like a teacher reading a paper by an intelligent student who has decided to coast through a class. Robots in Disguise includes some powerful moments that show that the band has the potential to rise above the herd of one-note synth-rockers that dominate the new wave revival, but these moments are always trapped in unstructured songs that fail to make an impression. This is the rough draft of a really good debut album.

Certainly it sounds well crafted on first listen. By incorporating elements from mid-'90s trip-hop and electronica-influenced alt-rock, Robots in Disguise sound radically different from the latest punk band who has rented a mini-Moog. Certainly strands of punk rock, synth-pop and modern day electro-punk influence their work, but the electronic sounds that Robots in Disguise borrow from seem much more modern than the typical early '80s music that most of these bands try to copy. Denim and Plume sing in a way that suggests a peaceful truce between the dry, unaffected vocals of Ladytron and the breathy, ethereal voices that dominated trip-hop during its salad days. Maybe the presence of Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner pushes the band into a more trip-hop direction, but the band seems comfortable enough with the genre to use it as a base for their stylistic experimentations. Nearly every song features at least one brilliant bit. The vocals on "D.I.Y.", yes the song where they sing about their art, are haunting and seductive in a way that brings to mind Elizabeth Fraser at her most accessible. "Bed Scenes" features a viciously distorted bass line designed to seduce listeners into turning the stereo up to a speaker-decimating volume, while "50 Minutes" shifts dramatically from a sleep-inducing verse into a menacing chorus consisting of Denim and Plume singing "50 minutes / 52 weeks / Four years" over and over again with greater and greater intensity.

These moments, however, either spring out of nowhere and fade away soon after, or they just repeat themselves until the listener loses interest. Songs that should be hypnotic become tiresome, and every song seems to go on for at least a minute and a half longer than it should. The song "What Junior Band Did Next" pretty much exemplifies the possibilities of Robots in Disguise and their weaknesses. Awash in strange and beautiful sounds, both electronic and acoustic, the song is a beautiful soundscape that manages to convey a cinematic mood without words. Unfortunately, Robots in Disguise add words to the mix, a spoken-word piece about a "boy named Junior Band" who takes on the name "Robots in Disguise". This narrative detracts from a song that could have been a gripping centerpiece as the parts of the song that are sung rather than spoken end up far more affecting than the twee spoken word bit filled with horrid lines such as "kissing with tongues became a main preoccupation".

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Robots in Disguise is the fact that the final two remixes of lead-off track "Boys" are better than the original version. The remixers, Hidden Agenda and SIN, find all the interesting sonic details laden in the original song and create memorable tracks from them. The Hidden Agenda remix highlights their electronica fetishism, producing a pulsing hypnotic track worthy of the KLF. The SIN remix, in contrast, spotlights Robots in Disguise's allegiance to rock and roll with a near-industrial take on their feminist deconstruction of the appeal of the opposite sex.

Robots in Disguise's first album is full of wonderful sounds and wonderful song ideas, but the two never seem to mesh. This is the band's first full-length album, which means they have plenty of time to create memorable art out of their already promising material, but Robots in Disguise has the same impact as the winning entry in a pre grad art school contest: it is aesthetically pleasing, thought provoking without being pedantic, but ultimately a hollow emotional experience.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.