November 25, 2009
Journal of Ardency
2009 | Terrible Records
Brooklyn group Class Actress’ debut album opens with an inviting electronic shimmer, drawing listeners into the polished pop of “Careful What You Say,” a perky dance track strewn with keyboard riffs mined from familiar ’80s territory. Fortunately, instead of a computerized drone at the controls, there’s Elizabeth Harper and her stunning voice, which soars breathily over the 808 handclaps and retro bleeps, smoothing out the rough bits for a mix of harmonies that sits comfortably above cheap imitators. Harper is also the band’s songwriter, and the seamless interplay of voice and instrument is no accident.
The title track is the album’s best, all ominous synthesizer bubbling and agile lyrical delivery full of defiant emotions from Harper that would otherwise be lost in translation if merely read off a lyrics sheet. The surging keyboard chords behind the chorus hint at a power that she’s only controlling with her voice because she doesn’t want to hurt you yet – like a cat toying with her prey, she’s simply waiting with infinite patience for the right moment to strike. In between verses, juicy keyboard interludes swell lushly in the speakers. What exactly is a “journal of ardency”? Just a pretty metaphor, but hearing her say the words conveys a spine-tingling thrill amid the icy beats and predatory sweetness.
“Let Me Take You Out” is a breezy, smooth ride, upbeat and poppy, but the breathy vocals start to grate quickly, especially during the chorus. Harper sings sweetly, but there’s no edge at all – the seductive whispers have turned sedative. Overproduction turns her blissed-out “oohs” into yawns, and the next track, “Adolescent Heart,” continues the downward slide. Pleasant, woozy lyrics and twinkly synth swirls are anchored by only the most minimal percussion track, with more elongated vowels piled on like shovelfuls of Ambien.
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