Album Reviews

Lo-Fang – Blue Film

(4AD) UK release date: 24 February 2014

Lo-Fang - Blue Film If Lo-Fang, or Matthew Hemerlein as his friends presumably call him, didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him. Artfully tousled hair, sleepy-eyed good looks, classically trained in a variety of instruments and an expert at setting a wistful, moody atmosphere. By all rights, he should be the perfect pop star for a more sensitive age.

One person who certainly thinks so is Lorde, for the New Zealand songstress named Hemerlein’s song #88 as one of her tracks of last year, and now Lo-Fang is supporting her on her first major tour of the USA. While all the elements seem to be in place to make the LA native’s debut album a huge success, is there any substance here or is it all a cunning, artfully designed, artifice?

Firstly, Blue Film sounds wonderful – it’s gorgeously produced, and veritably glides in on a bed of twinkling, fizzy synths and soothing strings. Hemerlein has a decent voice and an ear for a memorable chorus – songs like Look Away, Animal Urges and When We’re Fire have the ability to burn themselves into your brain whether you want them to or not. Album centrepiece #88 still sounds terrific, nearly seven minutes of elegant, intricate electronica with Hemerlein’s aching vocal providing a big, beating heart to the song.

The closing track Permutations pulls off a similar track and, curiously, it’s one of more than a few occasions where Hemerlein is a vocal dead-ringer for Elly Jackson from La Roux.┬áIt’s so beautifully put together that you can’t help but marvel at the craftmanship on display and, even more impressively, Hemerlein manages in inject a big dose of emotion into his musical backdrop.

Yet there’s a nagging feeling throughout Blue Film that it’s not quite as good as it hopes to be. At 12 tracks it’s a bit too long, and there are more than a few tracks that smack of filler. There’s a tendency for Lo-Fang to lean towards the bland, and some of the songs gathered here just seem a bit wet, for want of a better word. Nowhere is this better demonstrated on the cover version of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John‘s You’re The One That I Want. While the original is an unashamedly cheesy feel-good anthem, for his rendition, Hemerlein feels the need to slow it down, drape it in strings and sing the lyrics in a breathless, lovelorn fashion. It may as well be subtitled “next year’s John Lewis Christmas Advert music”.

Hemerlein fares better with his other choice of cover version, a rendition of BOY‘s tale of sexual harassment Boris – which, in Lo-Fang’s hands, is given a genuinely unsettling edge especially on the eerie deliver of the chorus’ “you’d better get out of town”. It makes for a menacing counter-balance to the underlying sweetness of the music on display.

Ultimately, Blue Film is a decent, enjoyable album that hints at Hemerlein’s undoubted talent whilst never pulling up too many trees. Success is obviously on the way, and with the added confidence that brings, Lo-Fang’s next album may well be a bit special.

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More on Lo-Fang
Q&A: Lo-Fang
Lo-Fang – Blue Film