It’s nice to hear music as unabashedly showy as what’s collected on Ima Robot’s self-titled debut. The 12 songs are remarkably flamboyant (in a good way), though occasionally over-the-top, but that’s mostly forgivable.
Ima Robot is full of catchy songs, and the keyboards and programming (care of Oliver Goldstein) stand up to the guitar-bass-drums in an atypical manner. Bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson and drummer Joey Waronker come with impressive resumes. Both have worked extensively with Beck; Meldal-Johnson has also played with Ladytron, Tori Amos and Marianne Faithfull, while Waronker worked with R.E.M. and the Smashing Pumpkins.
But the vocals are probably most striking thing here: singer Alex Ebert sounds kind of like (London) Suede’s Brett Anderson on uppers, which is refreshing, because too few dudes put themselves out there in this way. And though it’s a risk — Ebert could totally annoy you — it’s a worthwhile one.
The album’s first track, “Dynomite,” is exemplar, its bouncy bass line and guitar squeals interrupted by bursts of percussion and Ebert’s yowl — a chorus that’s sure to get stuck in your head. “Scream,” which is less up-tempo than many of the tracks here, is also one of the album’s best. Its pretty refrain shows that Ima Robot can play desperate and sad as well as they can play the more energetic stuff.
The band may be pushing it too close with “Dirty Life” (“I’m coming for you / I wanna shoot you up / I wanna do you / I wanna screw you up / I wanna fuck fuck fuck”), but they redeem themselves with “Let’s Talk Turkey,” which, with its light sing-song quality, is endearing despite its title. “Philosophofee” is nearly anthemic, Ebert’s commands and Waronker’s drumming beating out the time.
The glammy, well-crafted pop songs on Ima Robot clearly display the musicianship of the band’s members. Beware if you like your rock music understated — there’s little here that doesn’t sound urgent, semi-absurdist, or ready to split the seams.