CD Review: Little Boots, “Nocturnes”
It’s easy to wave a finger at the major labels for their general lack of curiosity or willingness to diversify in today’s pop market (it’s fun, too), but the fact is that in the mid-2000s, Atlantic Records really did give it a shot. They signed Hard-Fi, the Staines quartet who enjoyed some big-time buzz with their debut album Stars of CCTV. They still have Marina and the Diamonds on the roster, though they have not yet figured out how to break them in the States despite the fact that one of their singles went platinum in four different countries. They even had a distribution deal with Chop Shop Records, which is run by soundtrack maestro Alexandra Patsavas (Twilight, The O.C.) and features Mackintosh Braun and the underrated Republic Tigers on its roster. Patsavas recently moved Chop Shop to Universal, further proof that this party is officially over.
And truth be told, it’s not terribly surprising that those acts had trouble finding a larger audience in the States, for a variety of reasons. Hard-Fi ran out of gas rather quickly, Mackintosh Braun was cooler in theory than in execution, and the Republic Tigers subscribe to a style of songwriting that is sadly no longer in vogue (read: they write catchy songs, but they don’t write hits). There was one act on Atlantic’s roster, though (Elektra, technically), that had crossover hit written all over her, and that is UK synth popster Victoria “Little Boots” Hesketh. Her 2010 album Hands had two songs that seemed tailor-made to make her a star on this side of the pond, but they didn’t stick, and frankly, it boggles the mind. Did someone discover a cure for her #6 UK hit earworm “Remedy” that we didn’t hear about? Didn’t people see the album cover? She’s fucking gorgeous, and she writes catchy dance pop. What more do you want, people?
We told you – she’s gorgeous.
Three years later, Little Boots is back, and it will be curious to see how the Americans respond to her now that she is an indie artist. Being on an indie label (her own label, in fact) already makes her cooler in certain circles, and while that is shallow and patently unfair, it is also a very real thing that musicians deal with every day. As for the album itself, well, that will earn her some additional cool points as well. Nocturnes features production and contributions from members of LCD Soundsystem, Hercules and Love Affair, and Simian Mobile Disco, and the feel of the album is decidedly more club-oriented than Hands, which seemed more radio-friendly. More importantly, it sounds like the work of someone who’s only trying to please herself, and it is those moves that often help an artist cement his or her fan base.
The influences are many and varied; leadoff track “Motorway” will have fans of St. Etienne swooning, while “Shake” is a modern-day spin on late-’80s house music. Boots can still write a killer pop tune though, and she does just that on “Crescendo,” which sports a rafter-shaking chorus, and album closer “Satellite,” which plays like a more subdued “Ray of Light.” It has a healthy respect for all eras of dance music, but sports a contemporary sound, which means it’s the kind of album that would have given her handlers at Atlantic hives. And yet, it stands a better chance of enabling Little Boots to bolster her standing in the US.
It’s funny how commercial success is a lot like love, and often finds people only after they’ve stopped looking for it. With Nocturnes, Little Boots has made an album to be proud of regardless, but it would not surprise us in the slightest if it proved to be the one that finds her dancing down the aisle, as it were.