There's something about a lot of music with high female vocals, particularly this brand of sugary electro-pop, that doesn't sit well with me -- call it internalized misogyny, call it projection, but give me scrawny off-key boys or tougher-sounding belting chicks any day. All the same, as I listen to The Joy of Sing-Sing
, the few moments where I find myself instinctively wincing at Lisa O'Neill's sweetly girlish vocals are much outweighed by the sheer weight and backbone she and Emma Anderson somehow give to what seems at first to be yet another British electronic-flavored stylish pop record. These are no wispy singer-songwriters here; they have style, grace and charm to spare, but in the sort of way that brooks no argument from any self-important rockers -- or anyone else, for that matter.
Don't get me wrong, this is a very pretty record, and often very much so. There are hooks popping out everywhere here, accented, not cloaked, by the songs' sheen of electronic beats and sighs and analog keyboards. Underneath all those shiny, shiny flourishes and moddish overtones, though, is some seriously smart, witty music, for the most part. "Feels Like Summer" is a faintly Motown-flavored, downright gleeful "I told you so" of a kiss-off song, and "Panda Eyes" is probably the most danceable song ever written about having a hangover. With its brief flashes of horns and strings (however synthesized), "Far Away From Love" sounds like a particularly odd but still damned catchy collaboration between Beulah and St. Etienne. It's a record, that, for its occasionally trip-hop leanings, is really about the songs, rather than about sound textures and breathy singers.
Together with their many collaborators, O'Neill and Anderson, by sheer force of personality, have outstripped their musical pasts -- the former chiefly working as vocalist on others' electronic-based projects, and the latter in all-about-the-ethereal Lush -- and created a glamorous, evocative sound with a solid pop base, rather than mood pieces with pop trappings. It ends up being even moodier for all the genuine heart and wit behind it. Now there's style for you!