Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Malcolm Lincoln - Loaded With Zoul

Before Eesti Laul 2010, both Malcolm Lincoln and its members, Robin Juhkental and Madis Kubu, were fairly unknown. Sure, fans of "alternative" music that hardly ever gets radio air time, may fill the club Plink Plonk in Tartu without any difficulty if the band performs there, but it is highly unlikely that anyone in Kapa-Kohila would have been able to say much of anything about those boys before their TV debut.

The leader of the group, Robin Juhkental, has said that musically, a fateful moment for him was the 2003 Eurovision, which saw the participation of Vaiko Eplik and Ruffus with their ’80s phobia. This was the song that encouraged Robin to grab a guitar and put together his first band, the blues-rock-ish Tšakra. From there came Fond and Speed King with rock’n’roll and progressive sounds. But when these bands ceased to exist in spring 2009 due to a conflict between ambition and skills, Robin gave up the rock and the roll and started to write electronic music on his computer.

By autumn 2009, Robin had finished a bunch of songs, uploaded them to MySpace and given the whole project a name – Malcolm Lincoln; the name of a fictitious man who, according to a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, was the 16th President of the United States. The rest is history. Suddenly there were concerts, a verbal record deal with Vaiko Eplik’s label Mortimer Snerd, barely making it to the final round of Eesti Laul 2010, and then winning the whole thing, and finally, a recording contract with the largest record company in the whole world, Universal. And thus, Loaded With Zoul was born.

Some records need a lot of time and several listens to "deliver" the message and show their hidden gems. With these records, the songs become more and more exciting and intoxicating, and the record itself more and more enjoyable and sensuous with each listen. Malcolm Lincoln’s record is not one of them – instead, it is a burning, passionate one-night stand after which you may see each other a couple of times again, but with each time the lust becomes smaller, and eventually, a longer acquaintance may even do more harm than good. The beauty of Malcolm Lincoln is in their splendid instantaneousness; in the colourful vigorous sparks that are only there for one moment, for a fleeting but powerful tick of time.

This moment is even more powerful if it happens live at a concert – on stage, Robin and Madis transform into Karate Kid (alias Robin in a white lab coat and a black belt), and Fretless Rämbu (alias Madis in combat trousers and an A-shirt, wearing a headband). The concerts now also include a Spiderman (Vaiko Eplik) on drums. Seeing Robin’s dance moves, I am tempted to compare him to Ian Curtis and the always eclectic Kristofer Östergren but, in all fairness, his stage presence is one of a kind, and it is immensely enjoyable.

Malcolm Lincoln Tallinnas. Karate Kid ja Fretless Rämbu. Autor: Aron Urb

I would describe the overall sound of the record with the words "old school influences" and "British electronic". It mixes the retro elements of the '70s and the '80s with modern chip and 8-bit music. Whoever thought that Siren was a bunch of meaningless moaning should be extremely pleased with this record – although Siren is still included in the track listing, it is without doubt the calmest and most lyrical song on the CD.

The opening song, Loaded With Zoul, gets the party going right away. This is definitely one of those tunes that you can find humming to yourself the following morning. It starts off quite sombre, but builds with every minute and gradually becomes quite soft and drum and bass-esque "danceable". The chorus is clearly the star of the song and the "aah-aah!" is very fun to sing along. Robin’s unconventional voice, which sounds especially interesting in this song, is probably one of the things that make this record so unique. It is dramatic, moving restlessly between different octaves and gliding between different notes, but still managing to be ironic and sincere while doing it.

The first two and a half minutes quickly fly by and without a warning, the first song is over. But the following first few notes of Where Did We Loze Our Way are so powerful that they just scream for attention. This type of gloomy sound works perfectly with Robin’s tone colour. But all of a sudden, the chorus transforms into an Orelipoiss-like moaning sung in falsetto, and although the second half of the chorus is more interesting than the first one, the song itself comes off as a bit boring.

The third song, I Wanna, starts off with a rock sound, but then loses its power and abates into comfortable indie-pop. The rhythm puts a skip in your step, but the background only uses the drums and the bass, thus leaving the whole thing slightly bland. The chorus also uses the trick we heard in the last song – the melody is sung along an octave higher in falsetto, with an accuracy that is somewhat hit and miss at times.

Wake Me Up sounds a lot like the previous song and reminds me of The Cure’s Lovecats afer a few listens. This time, there is also a keyboard sound in the background, which makes the song fresher and younger, similar to Mute Math.

The beginning of song 5 sounds awesome with headphones, making you imagine that you have a small kitten purring inside your head and walking from your one ear to another. I’m Ztill Ztanding is a happy-go-lucky electronic song, which, as a change, also uses beautiful full chords ("staaaaanding here") to accompany the melody in addition to the falsetto. The listener is given hardly any time to catch his breath before the next song comes up.

Duya Duya Duya is what you get when you put two completely different songs together – the verse has a nostalgic retro-pop sound, whereas the chorus is pure electronica. This song is the longest one on the record, going on for a little more than 4 minutes; one would think that length gives the song more variation, but in all honesty, the fadeout is simply awfully long and even though the modulations are fun to listen to, the song should be about a minute shorter in order to not become repetitive.

Malcolm Lincoln Tallinnas. Spiderman. Autor: Aron Urb

FunkZhite is probably one of the most exciting songs on the CD. The "funk" part is certainly there – the rhythm is recognisable and the sound is warmer than in the rest of the songs. Nevertheless, this funk is still in that unmistakeable "Robin" key; it combines elements in several different genres and has a very interesting vocal sound. Compared to the previous song, this one is like a breath of fresh air and, ironically, should be at least a minute longer.

Danz and Wadz Da Cloudz mixes old school drums and chip music. The song sounds like something Jacko would do; it has a simple but powerful chorus that is sure to stick in your mind. If you listen to it (too) carefully and/or too many times, it begins to drag and get boring, but it is a great dance song nonetheless.

Similar dance rhythms continue in song 9, Uu Monica. This song probably has the most club music potential and gets all the black girls to shake their booty. Nevertheless, I would like to see it build up and evolve a bit more. The soft sound is fitting if you listen to Uu Monica and Siren (which is the next one in line, anyway) in a row, but as an individual song, listened to separately, Uu Monica could benefit from more power.

Siren is definitely the most well-known song on the whole CD. It has this certain "something" that can only be felt but not described, and its video is perfect for the general tone. Like a lover, it pulls you in with its charms, flirts with you, seduces you, and finally you fall head over heels with its cold, haunting sound. Siren is one of the most brilliant songs on the record, despite the fact that it has a totally different sound compared to everything else, only a hint of drums, and no bass whatsoever.

The next song is, again, something completely different compared to the previous one. Body of Da Chrizt obviously takes some elements from d’n’b, yet, genre-wise, still borders on indie-pop. It is an interesting combination to say the least. The bridge reminds me of an old Estonian song of which the title, for the life of me, I cannot remember right now – something by Onu Bella, perhaps?

The last song, Found a Way, has a surprisingly Elvis-like sound which ties the whole record together. The background sounds are intriguing; occasionally it feels as if someone was vigorously moving their spoon around in a teacup, trying to melt the sugar there. It is a great song, do not get me wrong, but the structure is pretty much the same as in several previous songs – drums, bass, melody, backed by falsetto ... After 12 songs this starts to get old.

In brief, a bit more effort should have gone into the arrangement and the production of the songs. The eager use of falsetto is probably meant to add to the humour, but without more flesh on the bones, it stops being funny and starts getting boring after a while. Juhkental has said that since his voice is his main instrument, his main focus is exactly on that in his songs, but the instrumental part could be improved as well. Indeed, there is a lot of vocal acrobatics, and it is awesome to occasionally hear ten Robins sing at the same time, but some more change and variation and dynamics, please! Of course, this may just be my problem; after all, I fully admit and understand that Malcolm Lincoln’s debut album is a decently ironic intellectual disco of/for the consumer society.

Anyhow, before you start listening to this record, wait for a sunny weather and be in a good mood so you can dance while listening to it. The album as a whole is quite eclectic and surely will not appeal to everybody, but it is still a fine effort within its own field. Both the group itself and both of its members are still quite young, so there will be plenty of time to develop and improve the next record. Despite the huge success and popularity of Siren, Malcolm Lincoln will most definitely not be "the band who sang Siren on Eurovision" forever.

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