Release Date: May 5, 2009
Record label: Wall of Sound
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
It's perhaps appropriate that the Shortwave Set have Danger Mouse producing their second album -- given the dreamy late-'60s Beatles-and-forward psychedelia that tinges the whole album's sound, what better producer to have than the one who came to fame mashing up The White Album with Jay-Z? If anything, though, what Replica Sun Machine calls to mind is a previous attempt to meld aesthetics from about ten years back, the Beta Band's Hot Shots II -- it's not a question of exact similarity by any means, but there's a similarly easygoing feel in the arrangements and the beats, something that invites drift and a steady crunch in equal measure. Adding in some fairly high-profile collaborators in the persons of John Cale and Van Dyke Parks increases the sheer baroqueness of Replica Sun Machine (as memorably matched by the striking cover art), along with the sense of steady progression and sweet chanting throughout, especially on captivating lounge-funk numbers like "I Know," down to the wordless harmonies next to what sounds like a theremin solo. On a killer song like "Now Til '69," easily the measure of the kind of sunshine pop into early-ABBA efforts by such bands as World of Twist and Denim, the surging energy gives the album a big kick, while stately glam-tinged songs like "House of Lies," with its descending piano-led chorus, are further evidence of Replica Sun Machine's wonderful charms.
Three years after their underperforming debut - critics liked it; the public mouthed "who?" and wandered past - the Shortwave Set's return sees the band throwing everything and everyone into the mix in the hope of pricking up some ears. The album's special guests include chin-strokers' heroes Van Dyke Parks and John Cale, and production is by Danger Mouse. Remarkably, though, overegging has proved not to be a problem for the pudding.
Why would someone want a replica sun machine, when we have a real sun, which is completely free to use? The Shortwave Set don't care about practical questions such as this, of course-- they're fine with their LP title being a fancy, six-syllable way to say "lamp. " A second question arises, then: Why make things so unnecessarily complicated, and then be coy about it? It's semantics, sure, but also a useful way to think about the group and their latest album. Replica Sun Machine is an exceedingly simple thing-- with tunes so familiar-feeling to be easily ignorable-- but it's presented with a false sense of intricacy, gussied up and disguised as something more than it really is.
This alternative pop trio from Deptford, England has connections with enough famous (and sundry) talent that you might not ever be able to comfortably settle in with their second and latest record. Most of it will undoubtedly sound gratifyingly nostalgic to the first time listener, what with the Van Dyke Parks string arrangements and the Danger Mouse production. Still, pegging these sample-happy Brits as just another pleasant but ultimately unnecessary listen is hard to do.
There are times when I think the music business should heed the old adage about too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the soup. The lamentable phenomenon of “supergroups” – monstrous collectives of rock virtuosos competing for masturbation rights – are perhaps the best example of this, but today’s celebrity “superproducers” can be just as culpable (i.e. Timbalake and Timbaland’s recent massacre of Madonna).