Friday, May 20, 2011
The catch in Kenny Glasgow's voice made me wonder at first. He's forlorn-sounding, foggy and lonesome, and he wavers around pitch so determinedly in the first couple minutes of The Drawing Board's opening track, "Much Too Much," that the first time through it registered as passive aggression. What is this? I mean, yes, it's the album by the guys who did "Without You," RA's No. 1 track of last year—and that Ian Curtis-like sepulchral quality (albeit pitched up some: Glasgow's a tenor to Curtis's baritone) of tone and time had been the grabber there, too. But still—an album's worth? Well, at least I couldn't complain that Glasgow and Art Department partner Jonny White were running away from the thing that had made people care.
In fact, it was exactly the opposite—gloriously so. The Drawing Board is that rare thing: an album that takes everything good about a spectacular single and draws out its possibilities for its entire length. Glasgow's singing is breathy and nervy, and it flickers out of the speakers just enough to lure you in—a job the grooves complete. The tracks here are spare and deliberate: simple drum machines, sprinkles of programmed percussion, one-handed keyboard bass, cheap Casio chords, muttered spoken vocal overdubs. "Living the Life," one of two cuts with Seth Troxler (the other, "Vampire Nightclub," was the original A-side of "Without You") makes Art Department's debt to '80s Chicago house explicit by throwing in a quote from The It's "Donnie," while the percussion track of "Tell Me Why (Part 1)" slowly dissolves, revealing its similarities to Loose Joints' "Is It All Over My Face?"
But those are winks, not crutches. Like LCD Soundsystem or the first Luomo album, these are long tracks dense with allusion that sound like they were made up on the spot. Their length is key to that illusion, and to the album's strength. They stretch and tease out bits of interplay—between a Morse Code keyboard motif, a woman's soulful "mmm-hmmm" and a more robotic "on," occasional '80s video game lasers and other vocal samples, over a crisp and dry drum track, for instance, as on "What Does It Sound Like?"—in order to incrementally load the atmosphere with tension. But for all the moodiness on show here, there's no sense that Glasgow and White are truly gloomy: they keep the arrangements moving around too much for that. It's more like they find it cathartic, and beautiful—and can teach even a skeptic to as well.
Title: Art Department (2) – The Drawing Board
Label: Crosstown Rebels
Format: CD, Album
Released: Mar 2011
Review on RA
Art Department on Discogs