I Am Robot And Proud: Uphill City

Though Shaw-han Liem's been issuing music for a number of years now under his I Am Robot And Proud guise, he's been a bit under the electronic radar, so to speak, and really hasn't received the attention he deserves. The release of Uphill City—the title both an allusion to the struggle involved in achieving recognition in one's city (Toronto, in Liem's case) and within the artistic community and, more positively, a reference to “things are looking up”—suggests that now is as good a time as any to start righting that wrong. Certainly the thirty-six-minute album's electronic pop (the follow-up to 2006's The Electricity in Your House Wants to Sing) is breezy and high-spirited enough to warrant attention. It's not wholly electronic, by the way, as Liem seamlessly mixes acoustic (piano, guitar, drums) and electronic sounds into a beguiling and accessible whole. The album's ten songs typically pair intricate keyboard melodies with uncluttered beat patterns in concise three- to four-minute song structures.

The rapid mallet patterns that introduce the title track are a likely nod in Steve Reich's direction but the song, like much of the album, is largely a robust exercise in kaleidoscopic electro-pop sweetened by playful synthesizer melodies and sunlit atmosphere. Some of the album's strongest moments arrive in “401 Circuit,” which nicely balances delicate acoustic guitar playing with a heavier drum attack, and “Island Life,” a melancholic waltz which receives a major boost from Jeremy Strachan's flute and sax contributions. “Train Station Lullaby” ends the album in an appropriately uplifting style that suggests I Am Robot And Proud and Lullatone would make natural touring partners. Some listeners may find Liem's I Am Robot And Proud music to be too saccharine and admittedly it is largely free of darkness. Those with an appetite for quietly uplifting electro-pop music, on the other hand, may find the new album to be anything but an uphill climb and more like a welcome breath of fresh air.

November 2008