Chester French

Love the Future

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Chester French could make a great neo-power pop album, an intriguing psychedelic chamber-noise-pop album, or a fun hip-pop album. The problem with Love the Future is that the duo tried to make all of those albums at once. D.A. Wallach and Max Drummey were still Harvard students when they began working on these songs, and the pair lets listeners know how smart and ambitious they are throughout, from the spaghetti Western-esque "Introduction" to the copious strings and interludes that follow. But, while Chester French might love the future, they also know their rock history, from the sounds to the women: Drummey and Wallach update the wordy, quirky tradition of guys like Joe Jackson, Fountains of Wayne, and Hot Hot Heat (and maybe even a touch of young Billy Joel) with forward-thinking production; the girls they want are modern-day Bebe Buells. This mix of book smarts and pop culture savvy makes Chester French a perfect fit for Star Trak, the label run by the Neptunes, another brainy pair that has also studied cool deeply. Trouble is, Drummey and Wallach get carried away on Love the Future just as often as they deliver clever, concise songs. Sometimes this plays like breathless creativity, as on "Fingers," a piece of precious psychedelic chamber pop that switches between yearning for a girl named Marisa and the chorus "the fingers of your mind have wrapped around my spine," or "Neal," which throws together synths, rinky-dink piano, brass, and lyrics as apt as "working's tired out your eyes" and as random as "get a girlfriend/take her to the zoo" in rapid succession. Other times, it just feels fussy: "Country Interlude" jams together piano balladry, acid lounge, and lots of other tangents into its five minutes, yet it still manages to meander. Album closer "Sleep" would be a highlight, if it didn't dissolve into a grandiose brass coda topped with munchkin robot voices. Love the Future is much better -- if less interesting in a "did I really just hear that?" kind of way -- when Chester French tones down the hyperactivity and sticks to making songs with ridiculously ingratiating hooks. "The Jimmy Choos" and "Time to Unwind" show just how infectious this approach is, while "Not Over You," with its Theremin and telephone vocals, balances the duo's fondness for structure and experimentalism. Chester French save their single "She Loves Everybody" for Love the Future's penultimate track, another example of how the duo often tries to bury their innate poppiness. It's still their best song, bringing more emotion to their cleverness with love-hate lyrics like "Always around to please me/Always around to take control" and choruses full of yeahs and nos. This ambivalence also applies to the album as a whole: Too intelligent and well-crafted to dismiss but too disjointed and self-indulgent to really embrace, Love the Future is equally frustrating and promising.

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