REVIEW: Electric Guest - Mondo

 

We first covered Electric Guest in January of this year when we featured their single “This Head I Hold". At that time I was willing to give the band a listen simply for being produced by Danger Mouse (which, lets face it, is probably the best part about being produced by a big name producer).  On first listen, I was drawn in by the uptempo, danceable, yet undeniably soulful sound Electric Guest put out.  Though it’s hard to get away from the Gnarls Barkley comparison on “This Head I Hold,” I was optimistic that a full album would show some more depth and breadth from the group.  If proving that they could hit more than one vibe was the goal, Mondo - the debut LP from the group released April 24 on Downtown Records and Across the Universe - did not disappoint.  While the album is not going to go down in history as one of the greats, it is a very listenable genre-crossing summertime pop record with a handful of high points.  

Electric Guest is technically a two-man outfit made up of singer/frontman Asa Taccone and guitarist Matthew Compton.  However, the group’s indie- and electronic-flavored take on soul has a depth and fullness that is facilitated by the synth, songwriting, and production contributions of Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), as well as generous use of harmonizing backup vocals and occasional support by additional musicians (including the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and previous Danger Mouse contributor Josh Klinghoffer).  The uptempo rhythms and (occasionally overly) whimsical vocals of Electric Guest result in a series of toe-tappers and head boppers that, at times, make for an interesting contrast to the decidedly less upbeat lyrical themes.  Although Taccone’s vocals are typically more notable for their aural quality than their lyrical content, the verses are at their strongest on tracks like “American Daydream” and “This Head I Hold”, which explore themes of wandering lost, the self-defeating search for clarity through the clouds of inebriation, and the sort of twenty-something malaise that comes with drifting through a “scene,” trying to find yourself while also trying to escape.  Other standout tracks are “Awake”, anchored by a super groovy baseline and a deliciously cheesy chorus, and the analog-synth driven “The Bait”.

While Taccone’s vocals are certainly the most distinctive and initially striking aspect of the total sound, fans of Danger Mouse’s other work (most notably Broken Bells and Gnarls Barkley) will find much familiar in the organs and synths of Electric Guest.  In fact, Burton’s influence is so pronounced on the record that at some point, this becomes the question: is Electric Guest a creative, new indie/pop/soul group that caught the lucky break of attracting Danger Mouse to produce their debut album? Or, like Gnarls Barkley, are they yet another Danger Mouse-driven collaboration with Burton matching his substantial talents with a unique and charismatic stage act?  

Here’s a better question: Why should we care?  At the end of the day, Mondo is an enjoyable, funky album that is almost equal parts dancey and stoned.  It may not have long-term staying power, but it should certainly have a home on any party playlist this summer.