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Mr. Fogg - Eleven

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Artist: Mr. Fogg

Album: Eleven

Label: Kicking Ink

Review date: May. 18, 2012

On first listen, Eleven, the second album by Phil Barry, a.k.a. Mr. Fogg, feels somewhat similar to the bedroom pop of a Memory Tapes or Toro Y Moi. These songs sound like they could have been recorded at home on a laptop using samples from Garageband or somesuch music software. Eleven also carries a similar fuzzy and awkward vibe, as if Barry has listened to a lot of different music styles and somehow tried to throw them all together.

But those first impressions were wrong. Eleven is, in fact, very much a studio beast, with Barry even travelling to Iceland to record at Valgeir Sigurdsson’s studio in Reykjavik. What results is an album that sits awkwardly between intimate, personal synth-pop and brash, shiny studio flourishes, with every second and ounce of sonic space filled with precisely measured sounds. A press release talks of “field recordings” being used, but every inch of Eleven feels tailored, lending it a veneer and gloss that ultimately proves to be Fogg’s undoing.

To focus on the positives, “Make a Fuss,” which opens the album, is propelled by scratchy techno beats that drop into the mix around delicate ambient passages. It’s a potent opener, one that mixes elegant synth flourishes with the edgy forward motion of vintage dubstep. The album’s best moments are when Fogg lets loose with percussion, as the tightly coiled rhythm patterns add some much needed bite to what is often an overly glossy affair. You certainly can’t fault the technical and even musical competence on display across Eleven (“Make a Fuss,” “A Little Letting Go” and “Stay Out of the Sun” all demonstrate Fogg’s ability to write catchy pop), but at the same time, whenever the beats recede you get left with a sense that things are too clean, too shiny and uninspiring.

With his plaintive voice, piano and strings (when the drum machine recedes), you get the feeling that Barry is aiming for the kind of audience that made James Blake so successful last year. The problem is that Barry has none of Blake’s restraint, and a lot of the album is ridiculously overblown, with even the best tracks on Eleven teetering on the brink of Keane-level blandness. Equally, his voice, whilst distinctive, is no match for Blake’s moody croon, and quickly gets tiresome.

Having said that, there’s a scattering of sounds across Eleven that reflect the better elements of modern pop music and electro. That may be damning with faint praise, but it just about sums up both the occasional quality and underwhelming defects of this bright, catchy but far-too-smooth album.

By Joseph Burnett

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