Nocturnes is the second studio album by Blackpool born Victoria Christina Hesketh (aka sprightly pop princess Little Boots), and is the follow-up to her 2009 well received debut Hands, which was a style-shifting excursion through various electronic genres. Nocturnes, as the name suggests, is an album that is thematically very much inspired by and indebted to the night. It builds on Hands‘ synth-pop sound, fusing an early noughties house music ambiance with nu-disco; at times recalling Madonna (on Beat Beat), Saint Etienne (Motorway), and Goldfraap (All For You).
Album opener Motorway recounts the fragile dream of escapism of two lovers fleeing into the neon-peppered darkness of the night. Musically it floats at times towards the sublime: it’s catchy and refined and, after a slow burning intro, the track yields spiralling piano lines, ascending strings and a variety of other instrumental flourishes.
The album highlight though is Crescendo, which ticks every box in the electro-pop handbook: five minutes forty-two seconds of swirling synth drenched brilliance, as its gradually swelling layers of sound echo the emotions of quarreling lovers caught in the eye of a storm of their own creation. Elsewhere thrilling album closer Satellites ends things on a diamond studded high, with resounding keyboards and glitzy synths. Hesketh frequently uses the imagery of various traditional motifs of the night to populate the lyrical landscapes of Nocturnes, whether it be satellites (Satellites’ “like a satellite I’m falling… I’m falling down to earth...”) or other celestial bodies (Strangers‘ “we see ourselves as stars…“). Nowhere is the preoccupation with the nocturnal more pronounced than on All For You, with Hesketh’s fragile utterance of “Tell me why must we sleep… I don’t know why we live to dream...”
Her nymph-like voice frequently sounds gorgeous and the lyrics, whilst straightforward, are occasionally wonderfully poignant (take Strangers’ “I wanna meet you for the very first time again…” for instance). There are some minor problems: half of the ten tracks weigh in at more than five minutes long, and they sometimes feel slightly drawn out.
Length of some of the tracks aside though, the production is stunning- principally due to Brit record producer Tim Goldsworthy (aided by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler). It’s more understated than Hands; the disco-driven soundscapes sparkle and shimmer… Confusion makes wonderful use of looped vocals punctuated by electro-glitches, and elsewhere there are moments of dubstep-inspired bass layered beneath seductive hooks and irresistible beats.
Ultimately Nocturnes proves to be an at-times fascinating pop album that yields more of its marvels with each listen. While it’s often euphoric, the elation is laced through with an undercurrent of melancholy. The minor flaws are far outweighed by the album’s abundance of enchanting moments; this is a foot-tapping finger-snapping package of disco-pop tracks that should see Hesketh continue her upwards trajectory towards being named alongside the likes of Robyn, Ladyhawke and Florence Welch.
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