'Ego' is the second album proper from Portland, OR-via-Portugal Grammy-winning producer and songwriter André Allen Anjos, whose RAC have racked up over 200 remixes and a clutch of quality game soundtracks in barely any time at all.
As with 'Strangers', his 2014 debut, Anjos's second album drafts in a cast of friends to provide their vocal talents to his own songs. St. Lucia makes another appearance on the natural single choice 'The Beautiful Game', an uplifting, classy pop song full of nagging, insistent, simple melodies and jangly guitars with a sound that sounds like a nod to the more classic pop moments in the Wham! back catalogue – in a good way. It also manages to deliver a deft comment on the modern cultural cycle of instant gratification and immediate disposability – "You want it / You got it / You take it / Throw it away”.
This is, undeniably and unashamedly, a pop record but one that is content to delve deeply into melancholy waters. None of the songs here are 100% uplifting, having a deep, reflective quality that reinforces Anjos's comment that the title of his record – with all of its connotations of self-centred bigheadedness – is actually intended to indicate a sense of self-awareness and self-interrogation. The closest this gets to a pure euphoria is 'This Song' with former Vampire Weekend member Rostam, but only because it evolves into an unexpected crossover between IDM and pop music, with all the energy and dramatic rises and falls of club music yet with a soulful, emotionally sensitive core, finally concluding with an almost classical coda.
Elsewhere, 'I Still Wanna Know' with Weezer's Rivers Cuomo is pretty much what you'd expect when fusing Weezer's idiosyncratic indie rock with a thudding electronic backdrop. Here, Cuomo's wide-eyed can't-quite-believe-it vocal sounds more precise and youthfully on-point than at most points in Weezer's history. The result is an equation that roughly reads Anjos + Cuomo = The Cars. Who knew? The standout 'Heartbreak Summer' with K Flay recalls Bananarama's understated 'Cruel Summer', here with summery references to Californian partying and that endless, youthful sense that the summer is just one long adventure where real life need never intrude – yet laced with a sense of lovesick angst to take the edge off the otherwise optimistic mood.
There are other echoes of musical forebears here. 'Find A Way' begins with a vocal from Alice MK that's reminiscent, melodically, of Billy Joel's 'New York State Of Mind' and proceeds to develop into a stirring electronic pop gem with the same wistful, sentimental nostalgia that’s made Joel's song so enduring. ‘Heavy’, with one of RAC’s earlier members Karl Kling, could be a Simon & Garfunkel song when it starts with its baroque vocals and folksy guitars, before finally opening out into a robust, almost-cheerful pop song.
The major highlight here is 'Unusual' with MNDR, a nice, laid-back minor anthem driven by a sort of anti-homogeneity theme, laced with just a touch of devil-may-care casual nihilism – “You're more beautiful when you're unusual,” runs the chorus, one of many carefully-etched, thought-provoking lyrics across the duration of ‘Ego’.
Pop music really shouldn't be this clever; pop music, at least today, should be all about using Autotune and other vocal techniques to make every guest singer sound perfect, and which allows any manner of producers to avoid writing choruses by simply making a quick melody out of chipmunk-esque vocal snatches. "There's a chance that somebody born after 97 has never heard a real vocal without Autotune,” wrote André Allen Anjos on Twitter back in June. In the context of modern pop, RAC is a lot like the anti-Chainsmokers, with Anjos knocking out achingly adroit smart pop songs – complete with an enviable black book of singers – that sound entirely of their time, yet without resorting to dumb gimmicky hipster electronic producer nonsense. A modern pop classic.
Words: Mat Smith / @mjasmith
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