50:12 min • On Repeat Records • May 6, 2013
Andrew Darley reviews
The second album is renowned for being a great endeavour to accomplish. “The difficult follow-up”, “the sophomore slump”, whatever you chose to call it; the prospect and expectations of following a debut album can prove a loaded undertaking for any artist. Pair this with the question of either continuing the sound that established them or exploring a new direction, for better or worse. Yes, the second album can be a defining step in a musician’s career and their fan’s interest.
Then again, Little Boots, aka Victoria Hesketh, is no stranger to the weight of expectation and pressure from the music world. Her self-penned electronic pop entered the public’s awareness when she was awarded the BBC Sound of 2009, before her album was even completed, nor single released. The pressure was rapidly on to rise to the accolade. The album, Hands, when released garnered her immediate chart hits including ‘Remedy’ and ‘New In Town’. In spite of this, as promotion progressed Hesketh appeared to be worn down by the business and fine print of a major label contract. In an interview this year, she revealed her label had a strong input into the sound, producers and direction of the album, including the shortening of her seven minute gem ‘Stuck On Repeat’ to a maddening single edit. Going in to make album no. 2, her company had their own ideas once again of how it should be. This frustration ultimately led her to get out of her contract and flee the machine that was making her unhappy.
Inspired by other self-sufficient pop artists, specifically Robyn, Little Boots set up her own label to make her sequel. Nocturnes is the first mark of her artistic independence; an album bound together by the desire to make people dance. She recruited Tim Goldsworthy, James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco and Andy Butler from Hercules and The Love Affair to capture her vision of music and night culture. It carries over the big choruses that she is known for but they are woven with various dance music styles, taking nods from techno, deep house, disco, which were more implicit on her debut.
‘Beat Beat’ blazes straight out of ‘70s disco inferno, ‘Shake’ feels like walking into a mid-nineties warehouse rave, whilst ‘Motorway’ shimmers with a restrained, wistful elegance to start the album. It’s quite clear Boots has fought hard to make this record and re-establish herself in the way she wants to. Nonetheless, even as charmingly catchy as they are, the songs leave a nagging feeling that they’ve been heard before. Nocturnes lacks a distinctive identity to distinguish it from its contemporaries and those who have infused dance music and pop previously. Now that she has reclaimed full creative control, Hesketh needs to take the aesthetics and ideas she’s harboured over the past difficult three years and fearlessly put them into full effect. She has all the ingredients and potential to make a fantastic body of work that will grab people and shake them; but this collection leaves the impression that she needs to push her ideas further and be bolder with them. This follow-up to her major label debut finds her still finding herself artistically and a little uncertain of her own merit.
Nocturnes is the sound of nearing the end of a night-out, feeling elated and carefree, and wanting the DJ to play your favourite songs, but just won’t. Pleasing, but not nearly there.