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Chilly Gonzales
Ivory Tower Will Parkhouse , August 31st, 2010 06:08

Holler in the comments if we're wrong, but there can't be all that many Jewish-Canadian hip-hop artists with both an extra testicle and an album of Satie-like solo piano compositions under their belts. Okay, the former may be apocryphal press release bumf, but for all his comedy-rap stylings, the latter demands that Chilly Gonzales be taken seriously, even if he is prone to turning up to his shows in white gloves and a dressing gown.

A smooth operator, then, but don't expect a smooth ride, because if there's one thing the artist formerly known as Jason Beck loves more than a nice sit down at the piano – and the title of Ivory Tower is, of course, a nod to his beloved keys, more than anything – it's genre-hopping. The trouble with that is however much you like to brag about how marvellously eclectic your tastes are, it's hard not to feel a tiny bit ambushed by the surprises. Listening to previous albums, it isn't easy to tell which direction Gonzales might have gone for this album: the modernist calm of Solo Piano (2004) aside, 2008's Soft Power jumped between Ben Folds and Stevie Wonder, and was notable for its lack of rapping.

Turns out, it's Soft Power's Chaka Khan-alike disco pastiche 'Let's Ride' that's providing his cue this time. Those hoping for another 'Take Me To Broadway' should steel themselves; anyone hanging about for another Sebastian Tellier album, rejoice. We're wrongfooted right from the get-go, too: Ivory Tower's opener 'Knight Moves' begins with a few sober chords, and quickly turns into a vaguely melancholic dancefloor filler, something Chic might have recorded the morning after an Ibiza all-nighter.

Further indication that we might be getting something a little different comes when we realise we're a minute and a half into the next track 'I Am Europe' (which carries a strong whiff of Daft Punk) and still haven't heard a peep from the mouth of Chilly Gonzales, a man not known for his shyness. Ah, here he is – hold back your protagonist until act two, that's how it's done. "I'm a dogshit ashtray," he begins, that thespian playground sneer in his voice. "I'm a shrugging moustache. Wearing a speedo tuxedo." A minute of magnificently surreal sentences follow – and then he's gone.

The only other track on the album with a full vocal is 'The Grudge', an anger ballad filled with unpleasant spite, a fair few zingers ("We're like Barack and McCain, Mozart, Salieri, Houdini and whatshisname…"), more than one groaner ("My occupation is much like a doctor: I've got a lot of patients…" – oh gosh, really?), and a big singalong chorus that sounds like The Killers.

It's a highpoint – but one that feels completely out of place on an album of alternately pumping and, the odd vocal hook aside, thoughtful instrumentals (Berlin electro DJ Boys Noize takes producing duties, here, it's worth noting). The driving piano of 'Smothered Male' sounds like it's been stripped off a trailer for a gritty mid-'70s conspiracy thriller, but laden with enough effects to power a Gruff Rhys side project, it becomes the perfect theme tune for the sexy Countdown reboot Britain is surely due. 'Never Stop', meanwhile, has been stripped of the original Gonzales rap visitors to this year's live shows might remember, but keeps its naggingly memorable syncopated piano riff, and flourishes into a soul workout, with flutes and shit. After 'Never Stop', we kind of wish he had. The (Sister) sledgehammer disco stylings of 'You Can Dance' are wearing unless you're actually at a 70s theme night in full Travolta apparel, while LP closer 'Final Fantasy' features over five minutes of ponderous arpeggios.

It's a disappointing close, but that's genre-surfing for you: win some, lose some. It's also perhaps what we should expect from a seasoned defier of expectations, and the man who once told us: "Now I don't wanna make you bounce / I wanna be loved and hated in equal amounts."

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