POP ETC's 2012 self-titled release finds the band formerly known as The Morning Benders making a pretty big shift. Not only was it a change of name, this album works as a reboot of sorts. This doesn't feel like the same band that recorded Big Echo. Instead of embracing experimental rock producer (and Grizzly Bear bassist,) Chris Taylor, POP ETC brought in Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) and Andrew Dawson (producer for Kayne West and Lil Wayne) to work on this reinvention. The result is an album that has all the right ingredients: bombastic melodies, electronic synthesizers, drum machines, but it falls short of producing any really memorable moments.
The most frustrating aspect of this album is the potential. It really sounds great. It sounds like it should be a fantastic album. There's nothing really wrong with the production, instrumentation, or vocals. POP ETC just seems to lack the soul. The band doesn't feel committed; instead, it feels like a cynical, pre-manufactured attempt to gain fame. It feels as if the members of the band were operating with a check-list, adding in all the ingredients to make a modern, top-40 radio success. Instead of creating a genuine "celebration-of-pop" (as the band is calling it), it feels less like a salute and more like mimcry. POP ETC feels like a piece of candy -- it's great in the moment, but it has no nutritional value and isn't filling. The melodies created here just aren't catchy enough to really make these songs enduring.
Fans of Danger Mouse's projects might find something here to enjoy. Anyone with an interest in genre-blending pop records should give POP ETC a try; while I didn't like this album too much, I'm sure it will find its audience. This album would work well in any party setting -- it's light, breezy, and inoffensive. Recommended tracks to sample: "Halfway to Heaven," and "New Life."