Charming – Turn Down the Lights

Charming
Turn Down the Lights

This New York City-based group brings us an album that is two years in the making and features what the group likes to call “indie pop soul”. But that description is only the half of the picture. The band mix pop, disco, soul, twee, new wave and even international accents not only throughout the album but with many style changes within individual songs. While this may instantly make you wrinkle your nose at the thought, this group somehow takes it all and makes it work. Even in the moments where they sound cheesy, they also sound as though they having a lot of fun which even makes some of the sillier 70’s disco moments work most of the time.

The smooth and luscious voice of Nicole St. Clair Stoops is at the forefront of the album and acts as the anchor that holds the wide variety of sounds together. While her voice may be lovely, it doesn’t have the ability to fit into a wide range of styles. So, perhaps as an effort to make up for that, the group changes up the music instead. But the problem here is that it doesn’t always work in the groups favor. While the disco influence can feel a bit too much at certain points however they do strike a good balance between that and twee in a few tracks like “Lost and Found”. Here Nicole’s voice sounds at home between her own cute-sounding voice dishing out the less-then-cute lyrics and 70’s high-pitched harmonies in the background.

The other style that works very well for them, which is perhaps best suited for Nicole, is the more piano-based soul pop such as on “Turn Down the Lights” – which has plenty of “ooh la la’s” and “whoa oh oh’s”. Despite the happy sound of the music, the lyrics speak of relationship troubles with lines like “He really isn’t so bad / when you turn down the lights”. Although I’m not sure they were thinking with the random stylistic change midway through the track because the song was doing so well up until that point. “Sunday Afternoon” is also a winner for Nicole with its cute pop quality. While the Latin American jazz infusion towards the end is a fun little piano-based diversion, I would’ve rather seen that as a separate song altogether. It’s almost as though the group is trying too hard and instead of focusing on what works well for them, they end up packing in way more than necessary and sometimes even ruin what could’ve been pretty good songs.

In “Stranger (I Will Never Be A)” the group falls more in the soul category with Nicole’s voice dripping with a sexy, smooth quality that remains a bit too light for the style. The song starts out with bare musical accompaniment before the backing male vocals quickly pick up the funk along with horns, strings and an electric guitar that pops up in places. This is a good attempt but no matter how hard she tries Nicole still lacks the brassy, deep quality needed for a true soul performance. This is just not her element and is why the lighter fare works more in her favor. Whereas “Oceans” has Nicole’s voice take on a more breathy quality and it floats along over an acoustic guitar and hopping beat for a more straightforward indie pop style that has the slightest hint of alt country. This is certainly a style that works well for the group and while they couldn’t help but put in a diversion of sounds towards the end, the addition of the piano definitely added to the song. This track also has me wishing they did more similar stuff, as well as incorporating some more of the power pop style of their past efforts.

Turn Down the Lights shows us that it’s ok to blend different genres although it’s important to keep in mind what works best both vocally and instrumentally for the group. And, it’s also best when the shift doesn’t happen mid song. While I think the album could’ve used more energy and a little less soul, it’s still a charming group of songs for those who enjoy pop music with a little funk soul.