Sometimes I find an album that I want to love. Like a relationship that seems so right on paper – we both grew up on the plains; we both love Fruit Roll-Ups and spaghetti westerns – Electric President’s self-titled debut leaves me feeling that there’s something missing. There just isn’t that chemistry, no matter how great we get along. Electric President is an album with many nice small moments, but they don’t come together to create an extraordinary whole that is more than the sum of its parts – although the parts are still quite pretty.
Ben Cooper and Alex Kane create electro-folk pop that begs comparison to the Postal Service, the Incredible Moses Leroy, and David Gray. Acoustic guitar is instrument of choice, but it is backed by panoply of clicks, purrs, fuzzed-out electric guitar and organ, and programmed percussions alternated with live drumming. Although it was recorded in a tool shed and went under the digital knife in a bedroom, the album still sounds thoughtful and polished, and the editing that created skips and jumps keeps it at a distance from the predictable. It is dreamy music that may gently stir but never assault or bang.
Cooper’s singing and lyrics reach toward a quiet, inexpressible yearning, but ultimately the words seem expendable. This is where Electric President falters. The songs could not stand as instrumental works alone, but the songwriting won’t have you singing in the shower. The words merely exist as another layer of sound and source of rhythm. Not quite poppy and not quite moody, there’s just not enough feeling in any direction to really make it stick.
Coming in at ten tracks, Electric President has little room for throwaways. Although “Some Crap About the Future” and “Farewell” seem rambling and directionless at times, most of the songs contain enough musical elements and tempo switches to keep things interesting. “Ten Thousand Lines” starts slow with drifting guitar harmonies before dropping into a hip-hop rhythm that would sound at home in a Ratatat remix. “Metal Fingers” offers the biggest surprise of the album. It leaps from a shoe-gazing lament with a rattling snare drum loop to an upbeat toe-tapper with staccato rap-like singing that creates a feeling like redemption before sliding off in quiet pulses.
If you check out the band’s Web site you can listen to some of the duo’s earlier attempts at recording; the progress that the two have made since is readily apparent. Let’s hope that Electric President’s talent continues along this upward trajectory and keeps moving toward creating the magical spark that lets you know, Hey, this is it.