Offcuts #2

Smaller reviews written for Wears the Trousers:

Izzi Dunn, ‘Tits & Ass’ [Blunt Laser remix] (single, reviewed 11/09)

Is it unfortunate or serendipitous that ‘Izzi Dunn’ sounds like the question which follows a barely bearable mauling at the hands of an incompetent inamorato? As names to conjure with go, her latest single’s not bad either. ‘Tits & Ass’ (out now – hoHO!) is the first release from the West Londoner’s second album, Cries & Smiles, expected in March, and continues to showcase her skills as a versatile singer-songwriter, arranger, and cellist – a role in which she’s played and toured with the likes of Mark Ronson, Damon Albarn, Roots Manuva, Beverley Knight and Chaka Khan.

So, ‘Tits & Ass’, eh? Was there ever an expression so superficially glossy, giggly and glamorous, and so apt to devolve upon deconstruction into its tawdry, manipulative components, leaving it looking as flat as last week’s Page 3 and only marginally more appealing than a night with Peter Stringfellow? Arguments over sexual exploitation – particularly within the entertainment industry – have filled volumes, columns and lecture halls for the past half-century. While Dunn has no dazzlingly new take on things, her lyrics offer a succinct summation of the story so far. Her vocal soundbites scattershot from sisterly pleas for self-respect (”You know there’s more to you than tits and ass”) to Sex-Positivity for Dummies (”With her pockets full, who’s exploiting who?”).

This sloganeering slips down smoothly and soulfully between blaring brass and sharply stabbing strings, while elsewhere Dunn’s voice spikes into the insistent refrain’s slippery vocal shuffle. This curiously early-’90s musical backing is perhaps incongruously euphoric – the line “Tits and ass makes the world go round” sounds closer to ironic celebration than critique – but overall Dunn hits her targets (hypocrisy, objectification and counterproductive competition) more often than she misses. ‘Tits & Ass’ is a welcome reigniting of debate on hot-button issues, as well as a reminder that there’s little better than controversy you can dance to.

*

Colbie Caillat, Breakthrough (album, reviewed 09/09)

So this is ’surf-pop’? Or is it ‘blue-eyed soul’? Colbie Caillat’s music gets attributed to a multitude of genres, some more spurious or special-pleading than others, which is baffling given how simply one can slot it into the straightforward category of ‘good pop music’. The golden girl’s second album is imbued with the feel of her native Malibu, crammed with candyfloss melodies appropriately redolent of warm breezes and rolling surf.

Like its predecessor, Breakthrough is an impeccably wholesome and forward-looking album, sunny in outlook as well as in lyrical content. Its thematic centrepiece is ‘Rainbow’, a jaunty journey whose protagonist rambles towards her destiny, singing as she goes: “I’ve got no reason to worry / I know I’ll find the end”. It’s a song that beautifully captures the chilled-out carefree nonchalance that rarely lasts past adolescence.

For all the musical and lyrical joie de vivre on show here, there’s an interesting, occasionally world-weary ache to Caillat’s voice. Her husky lilt contrasts intriguingly with the merrily skipping vocal line on new-love anthems like ‘You Got Me’, with its backdrop of ’50s fingersnaps, or ‘Fallin’ For You’ and ‘Running Around’, both of which swing with the dizzy grace of ‘Cherish’-era Madonna. It’s a tone that’s more convincing on the songs which address love’s loss rather than its discovery; Caillat’s vocals attain a melancholy maturity on the slow-burning ‘Fearless’, the pulsing pep-talk of ‘It Stops Today’, and ‘Droplets’, her duet with co-crooner Jason Reeves. Although, like much good pop, it’s eminently disposable, while Breakthrough lasts it is heartfelt and likeable stuff. Getting out in the sun always does you good.

*

Miss Derringer, Winter Hill (album, reviewed 08/09)

Miss Derringer are on to a winner from the outset, because bands with names as brilliantly evocative as theirs are rare. The LA outfit’s third album, Winter Hill, is suitably crammed with stories of classy and tough-talking dames berating or lamenting the men who’ve Done Them Wrong. Vocalist Elizabeth McGrath has attracted comparisons to Debbie Harry, but more convincing echoes can be heard here of Gwen Stefani’s strut-and-sass and the Detroit Cobras’ full-throated blues and country twists.

Lyrically, the songs tackle the usual suspects of outlaw-country: heartbreak, loss, recrimination and self-possessed resolve. ‘Death By Desire’ is an outstanding track, opening with ‘60s girl-group spoken word and holding up a desolate rain-soaked streetscape as a mirror to the vocal’s pained regret, before sighing into a chorus – “bad blood / death by desire” – straight off a Southern Gothic pulp fiction cover. Bluesy vocal duelling pile-drives through ‘All The Pretty Things’, while ‘Tell Me So’ anatomises a dead relationship with plain, unflinching precision.

If the songs are occasionally simplistic and the style sometimes more derivative than homage, the skill with which these songs are accomplished, and the fun they seem to have had in doing so, make Miss Derringer more than worth a shot.

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