Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chromeo | Fancy Footwork

Without the liner notes or knowledge about the group, the listener could mistake Chromeo’s second album Fancy Footwork for an R&B dance album from the first Reagan administration. The duo seamlessly combines the electro beats of Dirty Mind-era Prince with the talkbox groove of Zapp & Roger and the pop hooks of Hall & Oates without sounding unintentionally corny or ironic.

The duo is comprised of Montreal-based childhood friends Pee Thug (Patrick Gemayel) and Dave 1 (David Macklovitch) who have described themselves as walking hip-hop encyclopedias and as the only successful Arab-Jewish partnership. Though they seldom play bass and guitar, they are obsessed with keyboards, synths, Moogs, and drum machines. When not recording and touring, Dave 1 is a Ph.D. student in French literature at Columbia University. While the duo’s synth sound and lyrical focus on free-spirited romance were probably not covered in Dave 1’s lit classes, these were strongly featured on their first album, 2004’s She’s In Control. These are improved when paired with outstanding hooks, as they are on Fancy Footwork.

The title track, whose lyrics are about a man trying to impress a lady with cool dance moves, begins with a not-so-discreet homage to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” The funky verses lead to the fabulous chorus, where a keyboard lick and layered synths showcase the melody’s rhythm.

Yet without Dave 1’s flirtatious voice, the melodies would be less than memorable. When he sings hilariously sexy lyrics in “Bonafied Lovin” like, “Nevermind an SMS/What you need is a sweet caress/Everybody wanna talk too much/But what you need is a special touch,” his sweet naughtiness and tone complement the content.

Like many tunes on the album, “Call Me Up,” a gem in the strong latter half, weaves the duo’s strengths to create a unified piece. Dave 1’s earnest and playful voice elevates the sweet, poppy melody in the chorus to R&B heaven. While the majority of today’s R&B is lost in the din of total synthesization, Chromeo make a completely synthesized groove sound organic and loose.

Chromeo seem to understand something that others in R&B do not. Hip-hop should be an influence, in lyrics, attitude, and style, but hip-hop should not be the music of R&B. If we listen to instrumentals of the biggest hits in contemporary R&B, they sound like hip-hop tracks. Timbaland, the producer behind massive hits like Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” has used synths and electro beats in his productions, but the tracks feel dry and static. For that reason, the songs lack warmth and groove, and the singing is sometimes so exaggerated it sounds absurd. By using synths and drum machines as more than mere devices, Chromeo have separated themselves from the factory tracks that currently litter radio and music television, and have created the definitive party album of 2007.
(Photo credit: Paul 107)

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