We have upon us now a new musical act, Add Agency, and an 11-song album, Gemstone Radar — fixings with a vaguely hip-hop feel to them. When you attempt to google the “record label,” “Stratking Records,” nothing comes up, and there’s no wikipedia blurb on them. The first two songs on the album are titled “Bootypop” and “Sex on the Side.” To sum things up: this strikes unmistakably as, if not a deliberate intent to alienate the listener, at least the product of someone who has been the OBJECT of tormenting alienation, probably the result of streamlined mainstream culture and being pigeonholed as a sex-hunter.
The surprise, then, is when Will Mora, encompassing Add Agency, sounds so SHAMELESS in divesting an explicitly meat-market zeitgeist, not parodying some objective that would jibe with a “bootypop,” but rather seeming to dive into that very image. Opener “Bootypop” sidles forth with credible borrowings from New Wave and Ratatat for a couple minutes until the keyboard solo, which I must say is hilariously white — it’s like some Miller Lite guzzler looking up from his NASCAR race to reminisce verbosely and reflect a minute on the beauty of that booty. And where did the time go? A chunk of the song’s second half is gone after that solo, and back in creeps the chorus with which Mora wants to be hypnotic: Bootypop / Bootypop pop pop pop / She owns the day-ince floor!”
Unfortunately, toward the end of this song it becomes apparent that “Bootypop” is Mora’s desperate, feeble attempt to comply with a genre, and he apparently thinks dance music is the easiest thing to make — just loop the same sleazy bass synth for four minutes straight over the dumbest, most asinine typical-American-guy lyrics you can find. Let’s try track two. “Sex on the Side.” Hmm.
To my surprise, track two is a rock song on which Mora sounds like David Bowie, instead of some teenage son DJ. There are several ways of looking at “Sex on the Side”: one, the deliberate attempt to alienate is obviously still there, what with sequencing this right after “Bootypop,” one-two; two, comparisons to ’80’s glam stack up doubly here, as Nick Cave is the only vaudeville he-man I could see setting this type of white boy libido into motion. Still, the variation is welcome, and somewhere out there are probably some championers of this persona… adult bookstores, maybe?
Elsewhere on the album, aside from cracking me up by often coming across as quite the quintessential stoner (“You better find yourself some moti-VAY-SHUN!”), Mora lets repetition bite his own project in the buns, big time. All of these songs are around four minutes long, they all have verses and choruses, and with some moderately notable exceptions, they all drape the atmosphere in the same glitzy synths. “Motivation,” I thought, was going to be my listener’s ticket to, well, a TRIP of some sort, but it melds to the same structural ennui as its brethren, leaving me longing to listen to anything, ANYTHING, a car alarm, whatever, as long as it doesn’t last exactly three to four minutes.
Apropos of how this is a solo project, sometimes I think collaborators, even the right producer, can really grant certain music its much-needed freshness, the ingenuousness of a discerning perspective. Not only would another musical mind comprise potentially another musi-CIAN, as in an instrument like a flute (Jethro Tull), or an oboe (Radiohead), to spice up the pot a bit, but sometimes just the will it takes to constantly relate, discuss and grow, ends up tendering some sophistication to the setting, and the blueprint is less likely to be such an instrumental and structural sameness. The muse would then be dedicated to something other than the great cultural ubiquity apparently at hand here, which we find boiled down simply to just wanting some chick who’s dancing. The closest Mora gets elsewhere to what you might call commendable humanity pulse-gauging is “Don’t Shake the Boat,” a continued mantra sprouting at least momentarily of listener sympathy, though his reference to “son” in the lyrics is unfortunately enervating rather than anthemic.
And in general, it’s Mora’s inability to be “anthemic” that’s the problem. I listened to “Secret Agent Man” and “Paint it Black” (sic) with sort of the same mindset: that these are certainly attention-grabbing titles, maybe making or breaking the album. To be honest, “Secret Agent Man,” just taken sonically, is viable Ween-playing-twee-pop territory, and Mora certainly knows his way around electric guitar projection — the result is really juicy. But it just gets you wondering, why does he have to cloak his charade in this image of a “secret agent man” when his lyrics fail to wield any real authority? More importantly, why did he begin his album with that awful europop when axe-shredding is his real musical skill? All things in time, my friend. All things in time.