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A Total Let Down

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Album Review

Building on the considerable strengths of the duo's initial singles and album, on Letdown, Babyland continue the same perfect bland of aggro-electronics, personal/political punk lyrical delivery, and whatever else works. The few changes there are turn up as understated rather than obvious, especially a continued embrace of careful additional touches to flesh out the songs. (Thus, the understated synth orchestration on the break of "Plain Talk" or the sudden inclusion of a kiddie music-box melody in the middle of "Suitable for Framing.") The band's signature song, "Worst Case Scenario," appears here after initially surfacing on a single. A crisp, focused percussion blast with various strange noises as accompaniment sets the base for Dan's at once abstract and focused dissection of someone who feels "the lowest of the low" — it's fantastic stuff, and has inspired cover versions and at least one band name. Other strong standouts include the rushed "The Next Day in the Course of Time," featuring a great rant about getting off your butt and doing something with your life instead of just procrastinating, and "Ramona Moraga," an indescribably vicious portrait of cloistered and smug white suburbia based on Dan's own youth in the privileged town of that name. The latter also has a great gang-shout chorus of "This is — not my community!" — an understandable sentiment when you consider the lyrics. Perhaps the most surprising cut is also one of the best — a cover of "Pink Frost," the taut, hushed post-punk reflection on a dying friend by New Zealand's Chills. The fragile lyric gets a rougher but no less intense reading from Dan, while the music follows the original melody on keyboard, adding in patented Babyland metal pounding and low electronic rumbles. It's a great way for Dan and Smith to show their sometimes hidden '80s alternative roots, and is an imaginative reworking in its own right.

A Total Let Down, Babyland
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