Niagara - Dont Take It Personally

by Justin Pearson Rating:6 Release Date:2014-09-08

Expectations are usually high for a second album, regardless of how the debut was received. Will it push boundaries, fall on its face, or stay in the comfort zone? Comparing sophomore effort Don't Take It Personally to their debut Otto, experimental pop duo Niagara seem to be playing it safe. The ideas this time around seem to be contained in a pot that's slowly heating up with the lid left off resulting in a slight stagnation throughout.

It starts out promisingly, with tracks 'John Barrett' and 'Fat Kaoss' leading the album. There's a strong bass pulse that keeps the first track going and piques your interest as to what's in store. On 'Fat Kaoss', the twisted circus/carousel noise at the beginning makes you wonder what direction it's going in, and then it suddenly grabs the dancefloor with its bass and staggered drums. The energy Yeasayer exuded on 2010's Odd Blood seems to be partly borrowed on both these songs.

Things start to take on a monotone color, with little thought to progression or dynamics on 'Vanillacola.' It embodies a fast-paced energy similar to running on a treadmill, and that's exactly what it does: it treads along and becomes tedious and droning. Nothing really transpires and then it just stops.

Following on the theme of the album, which is the struggle to balance a desire to develop and exploit technology against the need to make technology more sympathetic to nature,  you get one of the coolest ideas for a sample on 'Speak&Spell': an actual Speak & Spell. The song that's built around it, though, appears random and not very thought out, an almost waste of an original use of old technology.

'Laes' is a nice little ditty, and also one of the album's most fully formed songs. It seems to actually go somewhere before it builds and gets off the ground, especially near the end with horns thrown in.

'Popeye' seems out of place as an instrumental, and amounts to only background noise or atmosphere. This would be fine by itself, but on an album that's trying to solidify bigger ideas it seems like a lazy afterthought. It's more of a sleeper (literally) than a transitional moment.

'Else' is probably the best instance of the exuberance that 'Seal' embodied on Otto. It not only pulses with absolute feeling, but seems to tell the rest of the album: "This is the fun you missed!" There's an overflowing dynamic here that makes you wonder what the rest of the tracks could have been had they tapped into it.

The Auto-Tuned vocals on closer 'Bloom' move slowly, creeping toward a promise to deliver more, but instead it ends up as a half-hearted attempt as the lazy piano and drums take you out to nowhere.

Overall, it feels like there's a wild creativity lurking here somwhere, but a tame one stepped in to take the reins. There's a clearer focus than on their debut, but mostly of a macroscopic nature where the details are missed. The ideas are in there for sure, but I think they will only simmer before they boil. Hopefully, the lid will be waiting to pop the next time around.

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