Local CD round-up: The Idle Hands and Lookbook

New LP’s from a group of dandy rockers and a duo of electro-poppers.

PHOTO COURTESY PRETTY KIDS COLLECTIVE

PHOTO COURTESY PRETTY KIDS COLLECTIVE

Jay Boller

The Idle Hands ALBUM: âÄúThe Hearts We Broke on the Way to the ShowâÄù LABEL: Pretty Kids Collective If Minneapolis has a shortage of engaging frontmen âÄî and it does âÄî outsourcing might be the solution. At least in the case of The Idle Hands, a local quintet that parrots Britpop, whose lead singer Ciaran Daly (a native Irishman ) has all the swagger, attitude and energy needed to propel his group further into the scene limelight. Further propulsion of said group will surely stem from their superb debut LP âÄúThe Hearts We Broke on the Way to the Show,âÄù which dropped last month and is heaping more buzz on the dynamic Ireland/Minnesota hybrid. âÄúGet loaded loaded loaded loaded loaded,âÄù drawls Idle Hands frontman Daly on âÄúThe Hearts We BrokeâÄôsâÄù first track, easily titled âÄúLoaded.âÄù The track, already a staple on The Current, is a mid-tempo rocker that’s a wash of chunky power chords and swirling synths. ItâÄôs not overly remarkable from a musicianship standpoint, but that’s not The Idle Hands’ bag. It’s 15 seconds in, when Daly’s ever-evident Morrisey-impression voice saunters into the mix, that it becomes abundantly clear this band hinges on his personality-heavy projecting. And it works. âÄúLoaded,âÄù with its not-too-serious send-up of âÄúuninvited emo boys,âÄù âÄúhipster girlsâÄù and âÄúpunk rock kids with junkie friendsâÄù sees the frontman charming, clever and supremely confident. ItâÄôs a break from the cerebral, awkward, stage-frightened singers in many a Midwestern indie band, and a welcome one at that. âÄúThe Hearts We BrokeâÄù takes only slight deviations from the formula introduced on the opener (post-English mope rock with heavy dashes of humor and personality), and there’s hardly a dud in the bunch. The falsetto-y and aching âÄúSecretary,âÄù the trance vibe of âÄúCosmic DancerâÄù and the misguided new-wave influence on âÄúThe FallâÄù all see the band losing focus on what they do best: crafting catchy Britpop rocker gems. Overwhelmingly, though, the songs strike the mark with winners like âÄúLoaded,âÄù âÄúLiver and BrainsâÄù and the irresistibly hooky, down-tempo closer âÄúQueen of Air and Darkness.âÄù âÄúThe Hearts We BrokeâÄù simply doesn’t sound like a local disc. Daly’s supremely European accent adds to that fact, of course, but that’s only part of it. The LP stands out because of its professional-grade production gloss, fully realized pop ideas and dynamic vocal work. Do The Idle Hands have fanatic, âÄúfavorite bandâÄù potential? No, but what they’ve captured on âÄúThe Hearts We BrokeâÄù is all they really need: a polished rock sound with honed pop sensibilities and enough personality to keep things interesting. 4 of 5 stars Lookbook ALBUM: âÄúWild at HeartâÄù LABEL: Self-released Lookbook, an electronic pop collaborative between vocalist Maggie Morrison and beat-maker Grant Cutler , is pure cheese. Cutler’s beats are synth-y indulgences âÄî washes of noise seemingly plucked from âÄô80s TV. Morrison, an immensely talented vocalist, projects with her instrument as if summoning Pat Benatar and Gwen Stefani in the same breath. But even if the product is cultured and dairy, it’s not American or Velveeta . No, as demonstrated on their debut LP âÄúWild at Heart,âÄù Lookbook takes the corniest elements of music and makes them gourmet. âÄúWild at HeartâÄù begins with the sparse-into-chaotic pop of âÄúOver and Over.âÄù A heavily distorted bass line chugs and builds consistently throughout, but as time passes, Morrison’s vocals go from a sexy coo into something much louder, and drums/electronic swirls swell the song into an abrupt stop. From there, the disc hits its stride early. There’s the tinny, valley-girl pop of âÄúYesterday’s Company,âÄù the up-tempo, over-the-top vocals of âÄúWay BeyondâÄù and the gutsy, impassioned vocal hooks over the âÄô80s nightclub sound of âÄúThe Only Ones.âÄù The general tone of the opening tracks (cornball electronic pop with meaty, sexy singing) persists throughout. Songs take detours into darker, denser territory (âÄúTrue to Form,âÄù âÄúAll My BestâÄù) but Cutler can’t resist breaking out the spunky keys and drum machine beats, so they always come full circle into danceablility. Throughout âÄúWild at HeartâÄù there are few if any misses. With all-star vocal talent like Morrison and Cutler providing guilty pleasure beat candy, it’d be hard for them to miss. The LP’s finest tracks, however, come near the end âÄî the earnestly anthemic, tempo-shifting âÄúPassengerâÄù being one of them and the emotive guitars on title track âÄúWild at HeartâÄù being the other. Can a group as conceptually smirky as Lookbook be taken seriously? Arriving back at the cheese metaphor, yes, they can, because Lookbook, not unlike a fine European cheese, is alive. If the âÄô80s pop influences they’re channeling were processed and dead like Kraft Singles (they were), Lookbook breathes new life into them without a hint of irony. It’s revivalist pop that corrects something that was fun to hear but lifeless. In doing so, the duo not only cultivates something catchy but something with artistic merit. âÄúWild at HeartâÄù makes for an entirely impressive debut, cheese and all. 3.5 of 5 stars