Though it may be relaxed and pulled together, Chromeo’s third LP, “Business Casual,” is not aptly named. We need not listen to more than the opening track, “Hot Mess,” to get a sense of what Québec duo P-Thugg and Dave 1 think of themselves, and by extension, their creation here: “You’re a hot mess; you act as if you’ve got nothing to lose.” That might explain why this Balearic fare is not so much business casual as it is a brash attempt at naked streaking.
There are, of course, some parts that strike the eye (or in this case, the ear) in a good way. And “Hot Mess” does. Vocoder-processed lines mesh well with the more muscular electrofunk that Chromeo so reliably delivers; the melodic textures that occasionally punctuate the track serve to add further definition to something that will surely streak through college campuses around the nation.
Altogether different, though no less well-shaped, are the ballad-esque “When the Night Falls” and easy ’80s sound of “The Right Type”. The female vocal intrusions in the former seemingly elicit a more intimate response — not only in the male response but also in the way layers of zigging synthesized sounds melt into one another.
On the other hand, “The Right Type” translates this almost-romantic rapport into the LP’s most subtle track. What seems to be simple is anything but: Well-repeated sequences impress a desire for originality, which is amply supplied by the driving interludes of synth riffs. If anything, it is most out of control of the pack — the rigid conservative somehow twisted into something fresh and daring.
Of course, in every nude streak the letdowns abound, led by “I’m Not Contagious.” The very title of the track is a misnomer; it has fallen victim to the (contagious) disease that is U.S. pop music. It’s unimaginative and repetitive texture is the frail skeleton upon which layers and layers of fat — the flabby pop selections that echo throughout — are piled.
Even worse is “J’ai Claqué La Porte”. It’s French (“I slammed the door”), and it’s that pretentious person we all know who can’t stand up to the scrutiny of nudity or analysis. Underneath the veneer of foreign vocals, there is no substance. Light sounds feel as if they are almost zooming away, and they certainly have no chance of staying in our consciousness. We ought to feel blasé about this song, just as we should see the self-referential imperative of “Grow Up” — the track urgently needs to acquire more maturity, more appreciation for complexity of rhythm and sound.
When we go beyond the extremes, we find a number of perfectly appreciable specimens, though not entirely original ones. “Night by Night” borrows its riffs from “Eye of the Tiger,” while “Don’t Turn the Lights On” harks back to the more soulful material of Hall & Oates. Neither is particularly exciting by itself, though each provides a reminder of a different musical age in much the same way some bodies suggest an entire different age-group.
And the collection Chromeo assembles is not unlike what we have at Yale. There are some exemplars, beautiful constructions with lush textures and a very precise sense of space. There are some decidedly less palatable aural visions, synth lines that, while not dismal, hardly excite. But that’s all to be expected, for to demand “Business Casual” is to invite all manner of dress and sound.