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Chromeo: Business Casual

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Chromeo

Business Casual

Rating: 3.7/5.0

Label: Big Beat

Somewhere along the line, Dave 1 and P-Thugg of Chromeo paired up and decided to stop taking themselves too seriously. Maybe that happened before the duo started skillfully playing ’80s R&B, or perhaps that playful attitude comes with the territory, but Dave and P’s lovable sense of faux-cool is what drives Chromeo as a band and makes their retro electro-pop work so damn well. Yet Chromeo doesn’t ape neon ’80s sheen in a hipster attempt at ironic novelty. Business Casual only reinforces the duo’s love for that catchy sound and the exaggerated performance style that comes with it.

And the fact that Business Casual comes off more as a thoughtful homage than the overly playful Fancy Footwork is no coincidence. Business Casual is a darker album, and that tone contributes to Chromeo feeling serious despite those same infectious melodies and cheesy grooves. Chromeo hasn’t changed their iconic brand of pop (Dave 1’s vocals and P-Thugg’s sweaty synths) but they continue to improve the more delicate parts of their songwriting that aren’t so immediately recognizable – lyrics that don’t just rely on hooks, with song structures that coax movement and momentum out of the same.

In fact, Business Casual doesn’t really trade in the Chromeo’s trademark humor like its lighthearted predecessor, so there aren’t any downright over-the-top singles like “Bonafied Lovin” or “Momma’s Boy.” While those particular tracks made up for some dead weight last time around (and are great examples of what make these guys so lovable), Chromeo’s newest effort is more even and considerably less hooky; most of these tracks are tight, there isn’t any notable filler to drag things down, and the standouts (“Night by Night,” “Don’t Turn the Lights On”) aren’t the only offerings making Business Casual worth a listen. A few seconds of repetitive bloat could be shaved off the ends of songs like opener “Hot Mess” when they wear out, but that doesn’t drag down Chromeo’s otherwise enjoyable exercises in funky playtime.

Relationship strife is really at the center of everything here, with P-Thugg favoring ominous tones and some cool disco to match. “I’m Not Contagious” pairs shocked-out keys and a subtle jungle beat while Dave attempts to pacify a “jaded” lover; “Night by Night” is pretty much Chromeo’s updated mission statement (“She says I’m not romantic/ I say she’s too dramatic/ We can work it night by night“) so everyone takes them a little more seriously; “You Make it Rough” plays out exactly like a pissed-off lover scripting his complaints until he can vent them all out at once at the worst possible time; “J’ai Claqué la Porte,” a particularly catchy French ballad Serge Gainsbourg would dig, is all about slamming the door. “Grow Up” closes Business Casual like the best ’80s movie themes with springy toy store arpeggios, echoing digital drums and finger snaps, all with Dave singing about growing up before the relationship – the kind in just about every song on Fancy Footwork – falls apart.

Even though Chromeo doesn’t vary their style too much, Business Casual has a lot going on. It’s certainly not a cropped pop album and these songs are loaded with wall-to-wall style and lots of big studio magic. Fortunately, it’s a step in the right direction for two musicians who want desperately to add serious music to a canon that hasn’t aged well. They may be capable of stretching themselves more but the results wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. For Chromeo, more serious or not, that’s what it’s all about.

by Michael Merline

Key Tracks: Night by Night, Don’t Turn the Lights On

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