Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.
Some bands call themselves "eclectic" because they merge metal and hip-hop or include a xylophone in some songs, but Swedish band Teddybears
' music is the epitome of the word. Listening to the band's sixth album, Devil's Music
(released in the states on Big Beat/Atlantic today), it's impossible to pigeonhole the group. Teddybears' merging of pop, hip-hop, rock, and electronic music occasionally sounds like a sonic melting pot sloppily boiling over, but more often than not, their patchwork pieces coagulate into catchy, radio-friendly tunes that leave listeners tapping their feet and bobbing their heads.
But the reviews so far haven't exactly been glowing. Devil's Music
was first released overseas in March of last year, and since then, Rolling Stone
has deemed it "at once hyper-actively attention-hungry and synthetically bland," and Spin
called the album a "star-studded genre-hopping grab bag" and suggested that Teddybears' tracks would be less impressive without all the big name guest spots from the likes of Cee Lo
, and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
Sure, Devil's Music falls flat up against Teddybears' critically-acclaimed 2006 album, Soft Machine (which featured appearances from Iggy Pop, Nenah Cherry, and Elephant Man), but there's still some good stuff here.
For starters, there's the one song almost every critic has unanimously deemed "good" -- "Cardiac Arrest," featuring Robyn
. It's a pure pop song, with electronic vocal distortion on the chorus, jangly rock guitar, and midi-sounding keyboard effects. But while totally danceable, "Cardiac Arrest" isn't the best track on the album. I think that honor should go to "Cho Cha," a swingin' '60s-lounge-type song featuring The B-52's, la-la-la-la-la
melodies at beginning, minimalist instrumentation (digital drum beat and sparse, groovy guitar chords), and Cee Lo's smooth lead vocals. Oh, and there's some xylophone in there, too.
Other winners include "Crystal Meth Christians," which boasts both Wayne Coyne and some serious psychedelic dance-rock grooves (à la Arcade Fire), and "Rocket Scientist," which may be even better than "Cho Cha." Eve sings the lead vocals (which would've been better without the auto-tune), and there are some seriously sweet digital drums and percussive breakdowns. The track pulses with energy, and the irony isn't lost when the backing singers proclaim "Them drum machines ain't got no soul."
Unfortunately, the quality of the songs on Devil's Music is as mixed a bag as the band's gamut of music genres. "Get Mama a House" (featuring B.o.B.) is cool lyrically, and starts off well, with steady acoustic guitar strumming and B.o.B. singing about using his success in music to reward the woman who raised him. But by the time the first verse gets going, the song's started on a sloppy downward spiral of flashy euro pop verses and syrupy synths. Similarly, the track "Get Fresh with You" possesses a great, hand-clapping beat and reverb-y go-go organ effects, but flushes itself with (once again) digitally distorted vocals and sonic same-ness.
Ultimately, Devil's Music has a handful of good songs, but the album as a whole doesn't flow. There's still room to grow. Hopefully, Teddybears won't let their electronic vocal trend continue, especially when they have guests who can actually sing.