In recent years the ‘buzz’ single – a song released by a hot new band, usually on a small boutique label, usually on a limited release – has become more and more important. La Roux released Quicksand through Kitsuné, whilst this year’s big tip, Ellie Goulding, released her last single through Neon Gold. Both acts immediately signed with major labels.
London trio Chew Lips are either incredibly brave or remarkably foolhardy for leaving off their two (brilliant) buzz singles, Solo and Salt Air, from their debut album. The former rightly led to blanket coverage and tips for big things by blogs aplenty.
Produced by Bat For Lashes collaborator David Kosten, Unicorn doesn’t stray too far from the template set up on those two singles; the beats pop and fizz, strange synth sounds rise and fall and singer Tigs keeps the whole thing together with her surprisingly soulful croon (surprising given the fact that so much recent electronic music seems to replace soul with a detached cool).
There’s also an eerie feel to the album. Opener Eight has a strange recurring synth riff which slowly envelops the song before morphing into a big squelching bassline. The haunting Too Much Talking begins with what sounds like the recurring riff that opens Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Cheated Hearts, but transferred onto a keyboard. Album closer Piano Song features, unsurprisingly, a lot of piano, but the calm is peppered by a deep bass drone that plays in the background, underpinning the fragile vocal.
Elsewhere the eerie, maudlin tone is framed by frantic, ping-pong beats (Play Together, Seven), or intricate, distorted noises that mesh to make the brilliant intro to Two Hands. Even when the songs themselves don’t instantly grab, there are always moments to keep you interested; for example, in the way a guitar solo appears form nowhere on the fuzzed-up Gold Key. Plus, they throw in something as unashamedly brilliant as Slick, all exploding beats and a chorus that demands to be heard on the radio.
As much as Unicorn would benefit from having Solo or Salt Air included, it’s a testament to the quality of the majority of the other tracks that they’ve still managed to make a solid debut. There are mis-steps – Toro is flaccid punk funk and Karen feels like a lame retread of other, better songs – but on the whole Unicorn is a record that gets better over time and doesn’t simply rely on a few big singles. It looks as though their bravery has paid off.