The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock

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The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock, Solex's first album in three years and her first for Arena Rock Recording Company, downplays the manic creativity and wide-ranging sounds of previous efforts like Low Kick and Hard Bop and The Pick Up, resulting in Elisabeth Esselink's most straightforward, accessible collection of songs yet. That's in relative terms, though; there's still nobody else who makes intriguingly broken and reassembled pop quite like her. However, The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock, despite its attention-getting title, is definitely more musically low-key than might be expected, with fewer and more subtle samples mixed in with the live guitars and drums. This stripped-down sound would be more disappointing if Esselink hadn't found a new instrument to play with: the amazingly deep voice of guest vocalist Stuart Brown. Brown's cartoonishly low vocals make Esselink's voice sound even more girlish, particularly on "Honkey Donkey," a duet with a rope-skipping rhythm that makes it one of the album's most immediate moments. Brown also contributes to standout tracks like the gleeful on-the-lam song "Hot Diggitydog Run Run Run," which retraces a night out gone wrong, as well as the brassy opening track, "Yadda Yadda Yadda No. 1." In fact, The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock's best track might be "You've Got Me," the space rock meets alt-country closing track on which Brown takes the lead. It sounds totally unlike any other Solex track and recaptures some of the shock of hearing Esselink's work for the first time, suggesting that perhaps she should collaborate with other vocalists and artists more often. There's still a sense of fun on the rest of The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock, particularly on "The Boxer," which pairs blues guitar vamps with droplet-like synths, and on "You're Ugly," which manages to be both loopy and pensive. Unfortunately, though, too much of the album sounds like Solex by the numbers, if such a thing is possible. Even though Esselink's earlier albums were often initially dizzying, they revealed countless fun and intriguing details with each listen; this album might be easier to get into at first, but it's not quite as rewarding in the long run.

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