New Zealand singer-songwriter Pip Brown took her stage moniker, Ladyhawke, from the Richard Donner film of the same name, claiming to identify with the steely strength of the titular heroine played by Michelle Pfeiffer. But the similarities extend far beyond that. Both entities are firmly rooted in the ’80s (despite one not rearing its head until 2005)–pleasant but ultimately forgettable pieces of pop culture that value style over substance. Ladyhawke the film visually captured the majestic countryside and crumbling ruins of medieval France, but its story of supernatural romance was gimmicky at best. Ladyhawke the musician doles out New Wave hooks by the earful, but they begin and end with their catchy-ness. The majority of the tracks on her second full-length, Anxiety, teem with chilled vocals, crunchy guitar, and keyboard blurps that move hips to sway before showing their hollowness as soon as one steps off the dance floor.
Make no mistake; there’s nothing wrong with repetition. LCD Soundsystem built an entire career out of lengthy cuts saturated with thumping disco bass and sugary distortion. But James Murphy possesses a keen sense of nuance and pacing, meticulously constructing his wall of sound brick by sonic brick. Although his songs are often anchored by a simple beat, he weaves in wildly varying tweaks and instrumentation for moments of both unleashed momentum and well-measured restraint. Brown on the other hand–an artist whose shorter melodies feel longer than anything off of Sound of Silver–often opts to start things with a tinny drumbeat that immediately gives way to a full volume stew of radio-friendly electronica. Opener “Girl Like Me”, “Sunday Drive”, “Vaccine”, and closer “Gone Gone Gone” all take this approach. The poppy static lures one in right away, but the pulse grows tiresome due to its refusal to change. It’s as if she can’t wait to get to the good stuff.
Her apathetic vocal delivery only adds to the monotony. Lines such as “And now that you realize you see the pain in my blue eyes/There’s nothing more I can do than sing you lies” coast along with detached vibrato when they could easily be moments of snarling defiance or engaged grief. The verbal slickness makes for choruses that sound oddly robotic.
Anxiety works best when Brown steps out of her comfort zone and displays genuine vulnerability. The moody plod of Cellophane seems more concerned with catharsis than groove, and its the one moment where the singer connects with her lyrics, surprising given that nearly all of them deal with romantic turmoil. No sleep tonight. Were on the night train to anywhere but here, she rasps and quivers, finally allowing the listener into her head by letting the coolness melt away from her voice. The songs middle silences all the bells and whistles in favor of a cavernous tom and barely audible bass line. Its a rare instance of subtlety that shows Brown is far more captivating when being sincere instead of flashy. If she ventures farther in this direction, she might have an album of ear candy that’s both instantly sweet and ultimately satisfying.
Essential Track: “Cellophane”