Don't Take It Personally

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Italian indie pop experimentalists Niagara deliver their follow-up to 2013's strange concept record Otto. While their debut offered an octet of heavily manipulated electro-acoustic musings on the number eight, the songs on 2014's Don't Take It Personally discuss the advancement and exploitation of technology vs. the need to make technology more sympathetic to nature. At least, this is the heady concept advertised in the album's accompanying press release. Listening to their often difficult glitch-pop, you can hear Niagara's own struggle to balance their trailblazing, techy production with their apparent affection for acoustic instruments, found sounds, and samples. Decidedly more synth heavy than their first album, tracks like the darkly catchy single "Currybox" radiate a sort of contained majesty, melding pulsing electro-pop with sweeping strings and samples of Eastern European folk music. On the more blatantly experimental end of the spectrum, "Currybox" is immediately followed by "Popeye," a nearly five-minute ambient work full of distant hiss and noise that devolves into a harsh and abruptly ending crescendo. Songs like "Fat Kaoss" and "Vanillacola" offer plenty of rhythmic hooks, frequently playing David Tomat's and Gabriele Ottino's voices off of each other, but even the duo's poppiest moments are delivered from a distance. There is little warmth on Don't Take It Personally, which gives the impression of being recorded in a lonely phone booth somewhere in the arctic. Frosty, sweeping synths dominate many of the tracks along with manipulated Speak & Spells (the appropriately titled "Speak&Spell"), distorted vocals, and stunted, creepy beats ("Else"). Sonically, it's quite fascinating and filled with many layers and unexpected left turns and if it sounds like the meandering studio whimsy of two slightly demented producers, well, that's pretty much what it is. There is certainly some pop in there, but you may need a pickaxe to get to it.

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