Born Gold: Little Sleepwalker

Born Gold, Cecil Frena's experimental-electronic pop project (formerly Gobble Gobble), returns with Little Sleepwalker (limited to 300 copies), a generally frenetic and exuberant follow-up to the outfit's debut collection Bodysongs. Frena's project is eccentric, to say the least: though at first blush it appears to be essentially a somewhat oddball take on electronic dance music that's heavy on club beats, fiery synths, and treated vocals, there's more going on below the alien, sci-fi surface. The lyrics sometimes verge on surreal poetry and topics like dislocation, disembodiment, sleep, and spirits are explored in a falsetto-tinged vocal style that's purposefully androgynous.

The forty-one-minute album begins promisingly with the dizzying “Pulse Thief,” its bass-powered house pulse nicely augmented by pitch-shifting drum fills and Frena's android-falsetto vocals, so heavily treated they transcend gender. “That Way” backs a dramatic, goth-styled vocal with a snappy, stutter-funk backing that sounds tailor-made for nightclubbing. Side B's breathless “Black Sonar” ups the ante by aiming for a more epic-styled prog-pop style, even if such a designation seems a tad oxymoronic. Instrumentals like “Dawn Tunnel” and (a single vocal line aside) “II: Against Silence” demonstrate how strong Born Gold's sound can be when stripped of its vocal dimension—even when during such moments it feels less chaotic and more straightforward and direct in approach. “Dawn Tunnel” is especially appealing for exemplifying qualities that are in modest supply on the album: less hyperactivity and more melancholy on rhythmic and melodic grounds, respectively.

Still, while one appreciates the rationale behind Frena's genre-less vocal concept, in practice the treated singing that's front and center during a song like the Timbaland-styled “Lethe” and punchy “Skybicycle” tend to undercut the emotional impact a more natural vocal delivery would give the songs. Like Autotune, such vocal effects tend to diminish the material by cheapening it. That caveat aside, it's hard to deny Little Sleepwalker when Frena's effervescent songs blaze with such fierce determination.

November 2012