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After five years of rumours, false starts, and a prolonged “period of self-reflection,” Electric Guest’s sophomore album has finally arrived. After such a prolonged hiatus, though, many will no doubt be discovering the pairing of vocalist Asa Taccone and drummer Matthew Compton for the first time. The L.A.-based duo has been compared to Scissor Sisters and Tame Impala, and their new album Plural () is certain to invite more of the same. Even so, there is something unique about Electric Guest’s particular brand of breezy, summery electropop. It is music that evokes their home city, or at least the nebulous, idealized version of L.A. that exists in the minds of outsiders. Plural inhabits a sonic space that recalls constant sun and haze, a carefree yet vast and lonely place in a constant, unhurried sort of motion.
Plural finds the already talented band with a renewed sense of purpose, more confident in their craft. Compared to their (still stellar) debut, the songwriting seems more focused and deliberate. If Electric Guest’s first outing occasionally felt uncertain and uneven, it may have been because they were trying out a lot of styles, to see what stuck, and as it turned out, the final product featured plenty of both. This time, they have parsed things down to a cleaner, more straightforward electronic sound that feels well-suited to their talents. Plural is a more focused album a result, but Taccone and Compton remain as committed to eclectic, multifaceted work as ever. The pair plays off of a spectrum of influences, ranging from electronica to R&B to indie rock. Synths lifted directed from ’80s pop lend the album a sense of nostalgia, while the occasional burst of falsetto and the acoustic elements like the piano intro to “Zero” speak the indie pop sensibility of their first album. Midway through, HAIM is brought on board to lend their otherworldly vocal harmonies to “Dear To Me,” elevating an already stellar track into the album’s high point.
As Electric Guest flirts with a wide range of moods and genres over the album’s 11 tracks, it becomes clear that they have come into their own as songwriters. Plural shows a dedication to craft and attention to detail that does not feel obsessive or labored over. Refreshingly, it also avoids the sometimes frustrating sense of aimlessness sometimes embraced by other artists who dabble in the same sort of hazy, chillout electropop. Instead, Taccone and Compton infuse the tracks with a sense of movement. Compton in particular animates the songs and gives them a sense of direction and purpose, qualities often neglected in a genre where drum beats are often an afterthought, relegated to the background if they even show up at all. Tracks like “Glorious Warrior” and “See The Light” are effortlessly chill, laid back enough to slink into the background, but energetic enough to keep a listener’s head nodding along. Even when the tracks meander, as the Mondo callback “Back For Me” does, they are carried forward by a confident, unhurried rhythm. Electric Guest may not be in a rush to get where they’re going, but stopping entirely is out of the question.
Though their debut was a strong record on its own, Plural almost does Mondo it a disservice by making it seem more like a practice round. Electric Guest’s growth since 2012 is readily apparent. One notable difference the absence of production by electronica veteran Danger Mouse, whose presence was unmistakable on Mondo and probably did much to influence their sound and direction early on. Plural was written and produced entirely by Taccone and Compton, and in taking control of the process for themselves, they have refined their sound, stripping it of some of its initial overbearing production and making it more distinctly their own. One readily apparent advantage of the lighter hand they take to production is that it allows Taccone’s vocals to shine. His falsetto, ubiquitous on the first album, is used more selectively in favour of his natural voice, which itself is decidedly more confident. Autotune occasionally makes an appearance, but its use is similarly restrained and purposeful. They have learned to economize, and Plural is better off for it.
The bright, easy optimism of the album belies the personal and creative difficulties surrounding its release. Plural, in its final state, only came about after Electric Guest scrapped months of previous work they deemed unsatisfactory. Taccone had long planned a follow-up to Mondo, but by all accounts, and even the pair’s own admission, their nearly-complete album was enough of a clunker to be discarded entirely and send them back into the studio. What was undoubtedly a tough decision has paid off. The album is thoughtfully made, with tracks that hold together well and that merit multiple listens. It can only help that Electric Guest has learned sooner than some of their peers that a follow-up they can be proud of is better than half-hearted work turned out under pressure.
Plural is available on most streaming services, such as Spotify, and is available for purchase at Apple Music and on Amazon.com.
Electric Guest appears on Wednesday, March 8 at U Street Music Hall, 1115A U St. NW. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. Call 202-588-1880 or visit ustreetmusichall.com.
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