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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Projekt A-Ko: "Yoyodyne"

Last year, I profiled Projekt A-Ko in Audio Overflow's myspace music monday feature. In that article I wrote, "The band definitely does an amazing job of recreating the sound of indie music in the early 90s," and on their debut full-length album, Yoyodyne, the band continues to shine in that department. Throughout the album, bands like Sonic Youth and Sebadoh are constantly evoked, giving shoegazers of all shapes and sizes something to perk up at.

Projekt-A Ko is Fergus Lawrie on lead vocals and guitars, and Elaine and Ian Graham on bass and drums, respectively. The band flaunts a distorted, chaotic mess of music from the very first moments of Yoyodyne. On "Hey Palooka!," the album's lead-off track, the band travels from the heights of pop songwriting to the depths of noise rock effortlessly without ever seeming forced or over the top. Despite the band's sometimes unruly guitars and effects, one gets the feeling that none of this is done without care. All of it seems to have its place, and a lot of credit needs to be given to the band for reigning all of that in to make it more digestible.

What impresses me the most about Yoyodyne is that the group seems to have an uncanny ability to create brilliant pop hooks that instantly connect with the listener and stick whether you want them to or not. "Supertriste Duxelle," "Here Comes New Challenger!," and the aforementioned lead-off are all prominent examples of the band's excellent pop sensibilities. Honestly, I've never been the biggest fan of any of Projekt A-Ko's most notable influences, and the whole shoegaze sub-genre has been one that I've consistently avoided. The fact that I can come away from several listens to Yoyodyne and still want to return for more is entirely credited to the craftsmanship, passion, and songwriting skills of the band. This is shoegaze pop at its finest!

At the same time, however, Projekt A-Ko is not without blemish. The band's biggest flaw is Lawrie's voice, which hits all the notes but borders on bland. Despite the band's pop brilliance, Lawrie rarely sings a catchy hook without making me think that he doesn't have the polish to do these songs justice. Where his voice shines is on the album's slower, more solemn tracks. "Scintilla,"for example, is a perfect song; a spotless evocation of 90s alt-rock, and the album's most-impressive track! Lawrie's drab vocals blend flawlessly with his flimsy guitars. His vocals sound haunting next to Elaine's sugary-sweet backup, especially when they harmonize, "It's all too much/ it's not enough/ nothing has changed/ nothing is the same."

The album's title track (oddly enough, subtitled "Scintilla II") is just as beautiful, this time adding in lush string instrumentation into the mix. It was jarring at first to hear the cellos and violins, but simultaneously refreshing and thrilling! They really add to the song. The album's final track is a bleak comedown called "Don't Listen to This Song." You seriously should though. It's the first time that we get to hear the band in their simplest, most beautiful form. The chorus itself is a heartbreaking repetition of the song's title, and Fergus really outdoes himself on this one. When he sings, "My voice is a shattered dream," I can't help but think that there's no better way to describe it at that particular moment. It's a gorgeous, introspective track on what is otherwise an extroverted album.

With the band already hard at work on a follow-up to Yoyodyne, one has to wonder what they're up to. On this debut, the band has proven themselves capable of a range of sounds and styles that exceed the shoegaze label that follows them around. One thing I know I'd like to see in the future is the band playing to their strengths more. Lawrie's vocals work sometimes on the album's upbeat rockers, but it really shines on the Yoyodyne's downers! At the same time, the band has an amazing capability to create some really memorable pop hooks, and ignoring that would be a tragedy. Throwing Elaine Graham on lead vocals for a song or two would be exciting and perhaps even fitting, and finding a better balance between uppers and downers is a must! For the moment though, what we have is a pretty solid album that fully displays the talent, range, and potential of a young band. I'm excited for what the future holds and look forward to hearing more soon!

Key Tracks:
1. "Hey Palooka!"
2. "Here Comes New Challenger!"
3. "Scintilla"
4. "Yoyodyne (Scintilla II)"
5. "Don't Listen to This Song"

7 out of 10 Stars

The band has been kind enough to provide Audio Overflow readers with a 3-song sampler from Yoyodyne, containing the tracks, "Molten Hearts," "Supertriste Duxelle," and "Here Comes New Challenger!" You can download this sampler any time between now and May 23, 2009. If you like what you hear, please consider purchasing Yoyodyne directly from the band. I'm sure they'd appreciate it!

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