Despite it having a few satisfyingly immediate pop songs, Little Boots’ debut album, Hands, never quite brought the stardom it aimed for. More than likely, Victoria Hesketh – the voice behind the Little Boots moniker – was left feeling somewhat starstruck with numerous producers by her side to help write and create the songs on her album. It gave her a chance to try out a few different styles, all while staying inside her pop bubble, but unfortunately, for the listener, it made for a choppy, uneven experience. Still, with the likes of “Remedy,” “Meddle,” and “Stuck On Repeat” niggled somewhere is listener’s head, it gave Hesketh the opportunity to find a path to follow for longer.
Thankfully she has spent the years since the release of Hands doing live shows and delving into the DJ scene to find herself a sort of niche, again, all while staying within her pop bubble. Her new album, Nocturnes, much like the title might suggest, is Hesketh aiming for more of a night time feel, trying for an album that fits somewhere between being blasted out in clubs to soundtracking a late-night drive home through the city (possibly on the way home from the aforementioned clubs). As a result, Nocturnes rates better as an album that sounds better with time, as opposed to Hands’ sugar rush appeal. However, it also retains an uneven quality that can make getting through Nocturnes feel like someone trying to drag the party on a little too long.
When it’s good, though, it’s as good as Hesketh gets, if not a step or two up. Tim Goldsworthy takes production credits for most of the tracks here, and consequently Nocturnes doesn’t jump about too much. He keeps things relatively simple, too, turning and fiddling the keys in a way that makes everything blast at the appropriate, if not predictable moments. “Beat Beat” is a sparkly number with a helpful bass track putting it on par with something Kylie Minogue might pull off on a good day while “Crescendo” adds in a few choral effects to help the track reach its (wait for it) crescendo. James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco brings a Galvanize-era Chemical Brothers sound to “Shake” with its robotic voice and itchy guitar work.
Lead single “Broken Record” catches the ear, but it feels somewhat predictable, if not all too similar to “Remedy” once the chorus is about to kick in. While the cut up vocal effects are a nice touch, it’s easy to guess they’d feature just by looking at the song’s title whereas the bells chiming away every eight bars become a grating once you notice them. “Every Night I Say A Prayer,” which was the first track to appear to the world before the album’s release, uncomfortably tries to merge a brooding verse and a peppy chorus of Euro-pop pianos, all combining for a song that sounds like it’s missing the mark. The opening duo of tracks – the hazy, sleep-deprived “Motorway” and the contrastingly caffeinated “Confusion” – aren’t bad additions to Hesketh’s catalogue, but they don’t stand out too much compared to her best work.
Hesketh’s time on the DJ has had some effect on her work, which is apparent during the closing seconds of “Broken Record” and “Strangers” as they seek to stretch further, and it hasn’t been entirely detrimental. She’s more attuned to getting the most out of a few elements, and she’s also not afraid to spread herself out, making for tracks that pass the six minute mark. What hasn’t changed much, though, is her lyrical focus, where she seems stuck on repeat for the most part. She’ll either sing about connecting with someone in a club environment through the music, or how the music is all she needs. This keeps things snappy, but when you take a second to think about what’s she’s singing, it doesn’t bode well for sense-making. I mean, unless you’re Kieran Hebden pumping out the sound of a friend’s baby’s heartbeat, how exactly do you dance to the beat of someone’s heart, let alone “shake until your heart breaks”? On “All For You” she tries to ponder the bigger questions, but has to rest on not knowing (“I dunno why we live to die/ I dunno why we’re never truly satisfied”) before turning it into a saccharine romantic gesture (“In the end of my days/ When they ask what it was all for/ I will say/ It was all for you”).
In a way it’s fine that Hesketh travels down this path, trying to capture that adolescent lovelorn feeling in one simple chorus that also chants about how great the song they’re hearing is, but if she’s ever going to move on to be something bigger (both as a star and songwriter), she’ll have to seek new grounds. This is 2013 after all, and we now live in a world where Daft Punk can totally shadow every other electronic-pop record by releasing snippets of new songs. Closing track “Satellite” speaks true about Hesketh and her career as Little Boots: “learn to walk before you run” she sings before going on to sounding like she’s burning up in the atmosphere as synths and drums fly past her at speeds that are almost too much for her. It’s perhaps a little harsh to say that she can’t walk, but she needs to at least learn to jog before she starts competing in a marathon. When the song hits its final free-fall moment at the end, Hesketh finishes on the word “evaporating,” with plenty of suggested ellipsis afterwards; if she doesn’t take the aforementioned advice to heart, she may well find herself disappearing from people’s views before she’s even landed.
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