Jun 2012 25

Hardboiled Wonderland - As Small as a WorldHardboiled Wonderland
Category: Electronica / Trip-Hop
Album: As Small as a World
Stars: 3.5
Blurb: Lyrical debut that carries just enough emotional weight to justify its general lack of originality.


 

A pair of accomplished musicians, Martin Birke and Percy Howard debut as a duo with an album that proves that they might just be a match made in heaven. Conjured out of mesmerizing acoustic arrangements, snippets of trip-hopping beats, and brilliant vocal work, As Small as a World is better at being eclectic than it is at attempting alternative, but through playing it safe, it manages to find an equilibrium between experimentation and instantaneous appeal.

Hardboiled Wonderland wastes no time and in the first 30 seconds of opening track “Filthy” reveals their strong affinity with trip-hop artists like Massive Attack or Tricky and electronica that sprawls organically from a gentle sound of a keyboard rather than a storm of violent beats. “As Small as a World and Large as Alone” cements group’s style through an unobtrusive blend of violin, cello, and soaring vocal crescendos – a mix of elements that leaves the listener in the state of a pleasant emotional exhaustion. Surprisingly, it’s the relaxed, lightweight “Jungle Fever” that remains the most memorable track on the album. It’s a deceptively titled, playful tune that remains eloquent in its lyrical and musical properties and resists simplification for the sake of broadening its mainstream allure. It’s highly danceable (even if not quite suitable for a busy club) and erotic; for the four minutes of its length, it successfully evokes a steamy, intimate mood of physical attraction and provocative sexual magnetism, something that electronic music should carry encoded in its genes. The song reaches its finale through deep vibrating vocals and the hum of synthesizers and although not quite as orgasmic as its content might suggest, “Jungle Fever” to a large degree determines the album’s overall quality. As if ready to confirm their prowess in tear-jerking ballads, “I Carry Your Heart” finds the duo striving for melodramatic heights. Subtle use of piano and strings lays the foundation for a simple but dramatic song that finds Howard channelling David Bowie at the peak of his talent. In possession of an intense voice, it is here that he finds the haunting material that successfully mesmerises the listener.

“From the Inside Out” and “Looking for Strange” open up to a soulful, jazzy experimentation that introduces energetic unpredictability to the duo’s music. Both songs, instead of precise afflicting arrangements, utilize a range of industrial cacophonic staples that wouldn’t be out of place on an early NIN record. If they feel intrusive on As Small as a World, it is because Hardboiled Wonderland proves to be extremely efficient in building a mood that doesn’t find its appropriate extension in these free flowing songs. “Little Queen of Spades” and “Storm Queen” share a similar, confusingly dense backbone of noisy, fizzing glitches but add a chaotic half-spoken vocal that seems detached from the tracks’ rhythm and the album’s general mood. Although their pseudo-improvised, blues like character adds yet another different capacity to the band’s oeuvre, they both lack the impetus of “As Small as a World…” or “I Carry Your Heart.” The arrival of the female counterpart to Percy Howard’s overwhelming presence on “Candy for the Meatman” seems long coming and, frankly, too brief as it is evident that the deeply erotic quality of the music would lend itself perfectly to a more elaborate relation between masculine and feminine that is hinted at through several tracks. Out of all the varying ways in which the album unfolds, this particular one is the most accomplished and most in tune with the deeply lyrical bulk of the album.

Beyond the initial flirtation with gentle sound and provocative voice, Hardboiled Wonderland doesn’t necessarily manage to bring much more to the table. The album moves in the pace set at the beginning and does little to outdo the first, throat grabbing, highly dramatic impression. There’s nothing new to discover here but familiar, thoughtful whispers of Birke’s synthesizer and trembling of Howard’s voice are enough to keep listener’s attention. If Hardboiled Wonderland recognized that shifting towards the alternative is unnecessary, As Small as a World could be a devastatingly emotional musical punch line. Instead, it begins to look for different angles and, sadly, never returns to what made it tick in the first place.
 
Track list:

  1. Filthy
  2. As Small as a World and Large as Alone
  3. Jungle Fever
  4. I Carry Your Heart
  5. From the Inside Out
  6. Looking for Strange
  7. Little Queen of Spades
  8. Storm Queen
  9. Candy for the Meatman
  10. A Forever Thing

 
Hardboiled Wonderland Website http://hardboiledwonderland.net
Hardboiled Wonderland MySpace http://www.myspace.com/hardboiledwonderlandnews
Hardboiled Wonderland Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HWonderland.Music
Hardboiled Wonderland SoundCloud http://soundcloud.com/hardboiled-wonderland-1
Gonzo Multimedia Limited Website http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk
Gonzo Multimedia Limited Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gonzo-Multimedia/304756449589666
 
Purchase at:
Amazon CD
Amazon MP3
CDBaby
 
2011-06-24
 
Damian Glowinkowski (DamienG)

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