Night songs

Uh Huh Her grows with ‘Nocturnes’ but still loses its way in the dark

Music-1

DOUBLE TROUBLE | Camila Grey, left, and Leisha Hailey of Uh Huh Her fall short in their second full-length CD ‘Nocturnes,’ but make a nice recovery toward the end.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

 

When Uh Huh Her debuted in 2008 with Common Reaction, the critics noticed. Perhaps one of the more underrated albums of the year, the duo of Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey created a sophisticated track list fusing indie rock and electro-pop into catchy tunes.

It’s a shame they missed the mark on Nocturnes, their second full release, which displays a lot of growth, just all in the same key.

Perhaps if Nocturnes had been a concept album, the 11 tracks would work better — assuming “monotony” was the concept. The first six songs comprise a suite of similar tunes that are rendered forgettably. Where Reaction opened with a distinct attitude, UHH get washed out here, overcome with a blurred production overseen by Grey and Wendy Melvoin of Wendy and Lisa fame.

“Marstorm” appropriately opens the album with a strong set of guitars and racing drums. The ladies have gone a lot harder than before, but the jagged edge of the song rubs the wrong way and Grey’s soft vocals are swallowed by the music going on around her.

Even without a maelstrom of music, Grey’s voice is underwhelming in the intro of “Another Case.” Drummer Josh Kane seems to have been given carte blanche with his beat. He goes full throttle setting the pace of the album, but it’s one that barely relaxes. “Case” and its twin song “Disdain” push deep into the ears but without much substance.

When UHH delve into softer territory, as on “Human Nature,” they fare better. Although “Nature” isn’t that moving, it’s a reprieve from the unappealing sonic onslaught of previous songs.

UHH calm down by their eighth track, “Criminal,” and we finally begin to hear their familiar charm with a new display of complexities in their song structure. Grey’s sounds clearer (not much) and the intended moodiness of the album is in perfect pitch. The album clocks in at 40 minutes, but it takes forever to get to the final stretch which is the best part of Nocturnes. The final four tracks, starting with “Criminal,” immediately elevate the album to a higher plane.

With “Same High,” the texture of the music has subtle but sensuous layers and the minimalist lyrics balance the track exquisitely. The song grows with quietly and is perhaps the most satisfying track.

That said, “Darkness Is” may be the most challenging in all the right ways. The drive of the earlier songs is at the right speed here, forceful but not overpowering, leaving room for the ladies to deliver engaging lyrics like And say hell to the ones who sit on their thrones / And tell everybody to gather their guns and fear what? / Do you really want to let them control you?

Even with a cliché title, final track, “Time Stands Still,” succeeds with its gentleness. The song drifts with an ethereality that recalls, of all bands, Icehouse. “Time” doesn’t play as much as it melts over your ears with sumptuous delivery. Everything that’s right about UHH is marked in this song.

Nocturnes suffers from being top heavy with “Look Ma, I’m writing music” tracks that never provide a memorable experience. Instead, they ultimately drag the album down. Ironically, the final songs display Uh Huh Her at their finest and show a distinct maturity from Reaction, an already smart album.  Sophomore slump or not, when the band finds its balance, it should be remarkable.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Edge of glory

_sm_Judas_cover_v5-RGBLady Gaga dabbles with new sounds on the album ‘Born This Way’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way can be looked at in two different ways: Either as a second chapter, or as a third. Where The Fame Monster was announced as a companion piece to her debut, The Fame, I saw it as a stand-alone album, with enough strength on its own not to rely on a predecessor. Now with her third full-length CD (yeah, third) we see the music phenomenon dabbling with her formula … but not without encountering a few bumps.

As Gaga has blitzed herself into the stratosphere of stardom, she’s finding her role as a self-help guru for the disenfranchised — “the freaks,” as she’s called herself and her “little monster” fans. The plan has worked. And while her first releases were abstract perspectives on celebrity, love and partying, here she’s direct in her message not only to her fans, but to the world. She’s on a mission to change prejudices and discrimination and she’ll do it one media onslaught at a time.

Where here sound has been straightforward dance music, Gaga has begun venturing into new territory. With touches of rock and blues, she’s resisting pigeonholing as a club diva. Gaga shows such growth in “You and I” and “Electric Chapel.” The subtlety of electric guitar punctuates the still dance-y edge of “Chapel,” but “You and I” is solid bluesy despite its Mutt Lange tendencies. That signature background chorus of Lange, mostly heard in his Def Leppard tracks, detracts from the soul of the song, but plays with its gravitas.

With the buzz of her pre-release singles — “Judas” and the title track — Gaga might have known that throwing in a few obvious hits she could get away with some textures she hasn’t pursued before. “Government Hooker” delves in darker territory, but it’s also off-putting, though as it unfolds, we hear her voice in a political stance. The song is not her greatest, but the

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PAWS THEN PLAY | Even with some growing pains, Lady Gaga expands her artistic vision into some nice maturity in ‘Born This Way.’

girl obsessed with fame is developing into a woman with eyes opening into substance.

Even with its techno-sheen, Gaga does something lovely with “Bloody Mary.” Co-written with DJ White Shadow (as are several tracks on the CD), she shows restraint with visually intense lyrics minus a turbo-charged beat. Words like We are not just art for Michelangelo / To carve he can’t rewrite the agro / Of my furied heart are degrees above what other popsters are doing and refreshing to see her developing this way.

Lots of Gaga’s appeal is in her hooks and the ease of her repetitive chants. They get stuck in your head and perhaps that’s been her plan all along. Some songs still have it (“Judas” most famously), but maybe she’s moving beyond such tricks.

While she generally succeeds lyrically and musically, she does misstep on occasion. She goes Latin again with “Americano,” but not with the sophistication demonstrated on “Alejandro.” The fast beat sounds like a throbbing headache and the chorus is too abrasive to embrace. “Heavy Metal Lover” has an earworm accompaniment, but the song mostly hangs with a 3 a.m. club beat that just drones on and on.

Gaga also gets too simple sometimes, which has its pros and cons, especially in her more empowering songs. “The Queen”(from the 22-track deluxe edition) has anthemic lyrics such as I can be the queen you need me to be / This is my chance to be the dance/ I’ve dreamed it’s happening and the beat works, but the structure lacks excitement. Even the guitar touches can’t save it. The song is really an echo of Gaga’s more popular “Edge of Glory,” another simple song, but one that works much better, even if it does recall an ‘80s confidence-inducing power track complete with, of all things, a saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons.

Gaga likely has a few more hits to come from this CD. “Bad Kids” and “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” stand out as enjoyable treats that could score on the charts, but add little to the album’s overall package.

Artistically, she falls short of Monster, but this album is more a gateway to potentially better things. Born This Way may not be easy to swallow immediately, but time should be spent with it to explore some of its hidden parts — good and bad.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas