When last this site checked in with The Shortwave Set, back in November 2006, they'd just released their excellent single "Casual Use" and were promising their second album in Spring 2007, although they had just been dropped by their label, Independiente.
The London trio were actually on track to do so, creatively at least, having recorded in their home studio 25 or so songs for the follow-up to their debut, The Debt Collection (which made my Best of 2005 list). But then they got a call from Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, who The Shortwave Set met when they toured Gnarls Barkley in 2006. Having been a fan of their debut, he said he was interested in producing their next record. The band (songwriter/singer/guitarist Andrew Pettitt, singer/guitarist Ulrika Bjorsne, sample-master David Farrell) could hardly say no to such an offer, so they set aside the tracks they'd finished, trekked to Los Angeles to start all over again.
The results of their collaboration can be heard on Replica Sun Machine and it's not the album I was expecting. "Casual Use"seemed to point to a dancier direction and one might think that working with someone like Danger Mouse might push it further in that direction but, as his work on the Black Keys album also shows, Burton is more interested in working to hone an band's sound than forcing his aesthetic onto them. Not that his aesthetic is that different than The Shortwave Set's, given the sound of this and The Odd Couple. It's an ambitious album of sweeping psychedelic pop that shows them growing leaps and bounds, aiming high and more often than not hitting the mark.
Sampling, which was a big element of the first album and the core of the "Casual Use" single, has been replaced with real musicians. It takes a bit of the modern element out of their sound (which the band used to call "Victorian Funk") in favor of Beatles and Bowie, but there's no denying the end product's greatness. And while it's definitely informed by the past, Replica Sun Machine is firmly rooted in the now. It's truly an album, with a deliberate flow; in fact nearly every song segues into the next.
Lyrically, weary and deep-set cynicism abounds and is apparent from song titles like "House of Lies," "The Downer Song" and "Distant Daze." The most affecting song, though, is probably the gorgeous "Yesterdays to Come" that is both wistful yet completly anti-nostalgia. That song also benefits from a stunning string arrangement by Van Dyke Parks. John Cale who plays viola on some of the songs, too, though I'm not sure which ones to be honest.
The first single is "No Social" and as close to a dance number as Replica Sun Machine gets. There's something the rhythm that reminds me of both The Propellerheads' "History Repeating" and, um, Smashmouth's "Walking on the Sun" but is better than either, most certainly on the lyrical end. Here's the video:
The Daily Growl has the Optimo remix which is worth checking out, but what I really like is the b-side, "White Lie" is just as good, and with it's funky, dubby, laptoppy sounds I wouldn't be surprised if it's from the pre-Dangermouse sessions.
MP3: The Shortwave Set - White Lie
"No Social" is out April 21 in England and Replica Sun Machine is out May 5, though 7 Digital seems to have it
available now (make that a pre-order now) to download. If you buy it through Rough Trade you get a bonus disc including four remixes and a video documentary. No word on an American release but yanks can use 7 Digital which come out to about $16 for 320kbs MP3s.
From what I can tell, "Casual Use" is out of print/unavailable to download from anywhere, so here it is again. It was my #9 single of 2006:
MP3: The Shortwave Set - Casual Use
And if you've never heard The Debt Collection, you can download the whole shebang from The Shortwave Set's website for free.