Electronic indie-rocker Alexander Chen and his partner in crime Kenji Ross, better known as San Francisco-based duo Boy in Static, follow up 2007’s Violet with Candy Cigarette, a mish-mash of musical genres and intensely thought-out lyrics. The comparisons of Boy in Static are easily drawn: from the prominent viola in “Starlet,” which is reminiscent of a Ra Ra Riot composition, to the Postal Service-like keyboards of “Young San Francisco.” Yet the lyrics may be the only real bright spot on the album, so it’s a good thing all of them come printed in the album sleeve. Chen delivers poignant lyrics, speaking of relatable themes such as the passing of time, finding ones identity, and reflecting on what “home” really means. The problem is in the less than complementary packaging in which those lyrics are delivered.
Chen calls out the absurdity of commercialism and celebrity in “La Runways,” describing the billboards as “fossils kept by the sky, selling their goods to the ghosts of 1999.” If only there wasn’t absurd musical accompaniment to boot. Chen’s vocals lack the dexterity needed to deliver his complex, intricate phrasings. His vibrato seems forced, and at times even obnoxious. Lyrically, Chen gives us poetry, however it seems better suited for a collective book of works rather than an album with a plethora of instrumental contributions.
Albeit a noble try in the way of electronic layering, there is too much going on here. The most successful electronic-indie records have a simplified vocal delivery to justify the erratic combination of instruments that are usually employed. While lyrics, such as Ben Gibbard’s for example, may be just as obscure as the music accompanying them, the delivery is nonetheless fairly straightforward. On Candy Cigarette this is clearly not the case. “Starlet” has the potential to be great; however Chen seems to be straining his voice to pull off the vibrato, which is completely unneeded. The distorted female voice speaking the same lyrics that Chen has just attempted to sing is completely unnecessary.
While a valiant attempt, Candy Cigarette fails to leave its mark. Grabbing from a variety of influences, whether intentional or not, Boy in Static overcompensates. Here, simplification would be the perfect remedy.