Monday, February 14, 2011

Replicants - MillionYoung


Old Flame Records.

SCQ Rating: 72%

In the off-chance you find Extended Plays, as a format in general, slight in frame and unpredictable in quality, there’s a solid probability you’ve never set aside any time for Mike Diaz. Under his MillionYoung moniker, Diaz spent most of 2010 cresting upon the praise from two EPs, Sunndreamm and Be So True; neither of which game-changing but both matching a wildly fresh palette of surf-ridden guitar and retro keys to convincing compositions. Be So True, in particular, proved an ideal soundtrack for neon-lit nights of driving around in an attempt to keep cool, with Diaz’s vocals hanging in the humidity, uninterested not only in taking centre-stage but in defining any one focal point.

Even though the very essence of Chill-wave instinctively grabs at ear-pleasing euphoria, Diaz’s left-of-centre ideas sought to reform electro-pop into the confines of spacious songwriter-esque EPs. Offering a distinct ebb and flow, MillionYoung’s songwriting and sequencing hinted at a bigger picture than the series of disconnected hooks fired off by his subgenre’s many colleagues. Sure, both of these releases hovered around the twenty-minute mark and spent more time disproving expectations than blindly giving the goods, but they also boasted that Diaz knows his way around the EP’s anything-goes format, managing to say a lot within an unassuming song-cycle.

All of that said, a full-length debut still equates with big-boy shoes; the suspect belief that by creating something bigger and more conventional, it’ll also warrant the most respect. The resulting Replicants finds Diaz often taking the bait as well as centre-stage, not as an enigmatic electronic producer who contributes haunting vocal addendums but as front-man leading the way from verse to chorus and back again. Listen no further than ‘Calrissian’ to understand how MillionYoung’s effortless dream-pop can turn saccharine with too linear of an approach, as that single’s sing-along melody and breezy strums feel positively measured for short-term blogger satisfaction. ‘Perfect Eyes’ and the title track work with a similar straightforwardness; the former a dilated ballad of blurry harmonics that gathers rhythmic rumbling beneath Diaz’s adolescent croon, the latter an upgraded sequel to Be So True EP’s anthemic ‘Cynthia’. And both tracks, if unable to justify MillionYoung’s hype, at least reflect it, even when acknowledging that the added professionalism running slickly through Replicants abducts some of Diaz’s volatility.

Chill-wave cross-over bids aside, this debut LP still shares some spaced-out kinship with Diaz’s less conformist predecessors. The first substantial track, ‘Cosmonaut’, delivers a well-placed freefall; its melt-into-the-couch ease both vacuous and purposeful in establishing a chain of like-minded zone-outs. ‘Easy Now’ and ‘On On’ continue with more in-the-present, kinetic-as-hell brain-candy, preferring wordlessly intoned vocals, sensual and druggy, to the latter half’s sobering clairvoyance. Consumed independently, these jams, replete with zigzagging synth lines and a frostiness just a few degrees warm of Junior Boys’ Last Exit, might lack a ton of structural turns, but their disinterest in pretensions instill an urgency far more addictive than, say, ‘Calrissian’’s blandness. Other avenues emerge from this adventurousness, some more defined (like ‘Synanthropic’’s merger of lazer-synths and afro-rhythms – seriously, think a laptop-based Vampire Weekend) than others (the dub-turned-rock-WTF of ‘Gravity Feels’), but each of them lend more credence through experimenting than settling.

Exhausting his mellow side but safe-guarding his mystique, MillionYoung’s rite-of-passage full-length assembles like a minor success. While Diaz’s songwriting best compliments a foggy mind, it’s the vitality behind his beats – not the slow-building verses of ‘Perfect Eyes’ or the patient loops of ‘Sentimental’ – that rewards listeners. By forfeiting that core strength of impulsiveness for eager-to-please grooves, Replicants’ weak-points can gravitate alarmingly close to Chill-out music, an obsolete scene that Chill-wave artists would be wise to take notes from.

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