Thursday, December 19, 2002
Minimalist soundscapes mesh with soul-folk acoustics on Norwegian downtempo group Flunk''s debut album For Sleepyheads Only. Adding depth to a genre that lately seems a tad watered down, Flunk delightfully creates dynamic, mid-tempo ambience without compromising it''s simple sensibilities.
Organized by producer Ulf Nygaard, Flunk also consists of guitarist Jo Bakke (Formerly of the Norwegian pop group Happy Campers, and currently half of house-combo Antenna), and vocalist/medical student Anja Oyen. Reportedly spawned from many late nights in Ulf''s living room studio relaxing drinking beers and ordering Indian take-out, the group was actually conceived as an escape from the rigors of producing music. Flunk''s laid-back, chill sessions resulted in a handful of tracks worthy of releasing on the Norwegian imprint Beat Service.
Focused heavily on gentle muted guitars, docile break beats and elements of roots dub, Flunk creates a classy melange of waiflike new wave synth soundscapes that display a wide range of influences from dub, ambient, rock, soul, funk and folk music. Reminiscent of the early works of Massive Attack and Portishead, Flunk also has the uncanny ability to sound dynamic without rapid tempo changes or excessive sampling. Contrasts form Flunk''s cloudy headspace with Jo Bakke''s laid-back guitar acoustics layering subtle funk grooves behind the wispy, Bjork-ish vocals of Anja Oyen. They even manage to cover New Order''s "Blue Monday," reinventing the classic work without compromising the elements of the original songwriting.
In the last few years, downtempo has made some giant steps from the bedroom to the dance floor. Yet the genre seems to have gone soft, substituting its bittersweet edge for a more pop-like predisposition. Shedding the naivete of most down tempo, Flunk''s For Sleepyheads Only is downbeat sophistication, refining downtempo electronica, letting the music speak louder than ever.
Okay: it''s a creation of cable television, the offspring of the famously doddering hippie-metal icon and his sharpie wife. Kelly Osbourne (by making a record) is asking for a panning the way a john asks a dominatrix for a serious spanking. Such is fame-it opens a door that can be slammed mercilessly in one''s face. This "artist" has never paid a nickel''s worth of dues and as such can be fair game. Also, her televised takes on MTV doing Madonna''s "Papa Don''t Preach" revealed that she had more in common with mater than lead singing pater-she cannot carry a tune to save her life.
So what does Ms. Osbourne assay? Driving pop-punk originals with roots in early ''80s new-wave like Kim Wilde, Katrina and the Waves or a sped-up Joan Jett, not to mention hooks lifted from Sonic Youth and Veruca Salt. That said, this is so much better than it has a right to be, funny, cleverly crafted songs with the toppers being "Contradiction" and the title cut. These are seamlessly catchy tracks with genuine forward motion, not quite as tough (or as legit) as the Distillers or the Muffs, but surely a fine representation. Her vocal limitations are masked by stacked harmonies and pro-tooling also-like mom, she''s smart enough to suss out her strengths and bury her weaknesses.
Of course there are any number of grrrl rockers that could (and do) make discs that easily eclipse this one-but Kelly Osbourne, as damaged, angry celebrity slumming in the demi-monde is a lot more listenable than Keanu Reeves'' Dogstar or Kevin Bacon ever was doing the same trip. And this disc is a lot better than dad''s last couple to boot!