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. It’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.