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Alexis Taylor - Rubbed Out

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Artist: Alexis Taylor

Album: Rubbed Out

Label: Treader

Review date: Dec. 5, 2008

Sometimes a record knocks you sideways, not because it is good but because it is just so unexpected. Rubbed Out is such a record. The Treader label has an established core of musicians, all of whom work – broadly – in improvised music. As in their guise of Spring Heel Jack, Treader proprietors John Coxon and Ashley Wales are regularly joined by the likes of J Spaceman, Evan Parker, Matthew Shipp, Mark Sanders... So why is Treader releasing an album of songs by Hot Chip vocalist Alexis Taylor that he recorded at home? Or rather, as the blurb says: “Exclusively tailored in places, planes, hotel rooms and at home. 15 bespoke songs and instrumentals by Alexis Taylor.”

Given Hot Chip’s brand of electro-pop, it’s no surprise there’s not much improvisation in evidence here. Instead, using keyboards, drums, and guitar (plus a little help from Coxon and from Rupert Clervaux), Taylor explores 15 ideas, some of which are songs, some instrumentals. Hot Chip fans will search in vain for anything as catchy as Taylor’s main gig. The opening “Fireworks” electronically simulating the sound of crackling fireworks over a synthesiser backing. “Musical Food” is an organ-based drone piece. “Ruffles” is an atmospheric soundscape that overlays household noises on top of organ chords. “The Big Drums of Chwodes” does what it says on the label, simulating a troupe of drummers beating out rhythms on kettledrums and metallic percussion.

Everything on Rubbed Out feels like an experiment, like Taylor curiously discerning his limitations. The album’s signpost is a version of Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up.” The broken-up Beatle’s McCartney fro 1970 feels like a distant ancestor here, with its do-it-yourself demo ethos, its willingness to include ideas that didn’t fully blossom and its celebration of romantic love and joie de vivre. On “Coming Up,” Taylor does justice to the song and to The Fab One, managing a passable vocal imitation. Elsewhere, strangely enough, Taylor’s vocals are often more reminiscent of Lennon’s Spectorised reverb’d wail.

Taylor’s own songs all radiate a naïve charm, but lyrically the naivety too often bubbles to the surface (some might see echoes of McCartney or McCartney in those qualities). Titles such as “Baby,” “Girl” and “What Good is Love?” give a flavor of the songs’ concerns, and the latter’s suspect lyrics (“What good is love? / The songs are your gift / What good’s a gift? / Nothing exists…”) typify Taylor’s poetic style. There’s also a worrying sentimentality exemplified by the brief “O Lord,” (“Lord I love my home / Don’t make me leave her all alone”) and “I’m Not a Robber” (“I love you / I’m not a robber”).

You’d have to be pretty waifish to get swept off your feet by Taylor’s songs, but Hot Chip fans (or McCartney’s even) may end up beguiled into submission. And that’s not always such a bad thing.

By John Eyles

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