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Chinashop Riot writes the type of music that was made to play in a bedroom late at night. The kind of record you put on while lying lonely and miserable on a weekend while the cool kids are out having a blast. The musings featured on Chinashop Riot's first album, Agency, are romantic and dark, and easily feed into the angst brought on by hot summers, neurosis and hormones.
Listening to the record feels like lying in an unmade bed; dirty yet comfortable at the same time. Chinashop Riot expects its listeners to forgive the low production quality, out of key singing, and trite adolescent fantasies -- and revel in the earnestness and honesty of their songs.
If you're willing to forgive some of the obvious flaws, you'll be happy with Chinashop Riot; the cuts on the album may not all be pretty, or even good sometimes, but when they get it right, these kids get it right.
Getting it right primarily consists of putting Chris Capps' meandering vocals in the center of the mix, then pairing it with Serena Washington's lilting back-up vocals, giving Capps voice some much needed tonal grounding. Together the duo can sound sophisticated and breathy - like an old Panty Lions record or some family folk group from the 60's.
Unfortunately, Capps veers from this formula far too often, foraying into some un-listenable territory. For example, on the first track, "End of the World", Capps attempts to channel Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, but his voice lacks the dynamic character and charm that make Merritt's self-described "awful" voice tolerable.
Like the Magnetic Fields, Chinashop Riot's work is electropop- most of the songs seem like they were assembled from loops and sequenced rather than played. The result is a collection of simple, cold backdrops over which Capps and Washington relate their personal and morbid stories. Often the group's songwriting skill outstrips their depth as "sequencers" - distorted synth leads and unimaginative drumbeats go sour midway through a number of tracks.
These faults don't overshadow certain strengths. "Ms. Johansson" is an ode to Scarlet Johansson's role in the film "Lost in Translation". While some of the lyrics are juvenile, the refrain, "Scarlet! Scarlet! I'll be your Bob if you'll be my Charlotte", is a charmer.
Shotgun Romance is a song about love gone wrong. By far the best track on the album, it features a balanced melody that blends seamlessly with the brooding lyrics.
While Chinashop Riot struggles on a number of musical fronts, the kinks will be overcome as the group matures and they loosen up and develop. In the meantime, Capps and Washington are off to a strong start.
More information about how to purchase Chinashop Riot's new CD is available at their website, www.chinashopriot.com.