ALBUM REVIEW: Donora - Boyfriends, Girlfriends (Rostrum Records, 2011);
I’ve started this review a few times. One attempt discussed the massive success found by Donora’s Rostrum Records labelmates, Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. Rostrum seems to have the right distribution and press channels and is definitely doing something right commercially. Can that success be transferred to Donora, an act that has significantly less raps? It seems like to some extent it has. A previous album song, “The Chorus,” wound up on the Abduction soundtrack, nudging elbows with Train, Lenny Kravitz, and Raphael Saadiq. A few days ago, Teen Vogue blogged and streamed “The Untouchables,” one of the more anthem-ic tracks on Boyfriends, Girlfriends.
Another start to the review discussed intention in music creation. In the interviews surrounding this release, “fun” seems to be both the main ingredient and the desired outcome. If music was judged solely on intention, this album would be a 10/10 or A+ or what-have-you, allowing the worst mood to lift with a stream of undeniably sweet chord changes. Whether it is inherent to these three musician’s abilities or a concentrated effort, commercial appeal oozes from every second of this release. Take any 30 second interval, and it will surely sell you a car, mobile phone plan, candidate platform, or, hopefully, locally-based initiative. But all of this is a bit irrelevant to the music. So, let’s start now.
When dealing with love and relationships, an idealized pairing or storybook fantasy usually lingers in the background, posing as the standard to which the current relationship is compared. Boyfriends, Girlfriends is structured like a storybook. Opener “The Story” acts as an overture, spelling out some of the reoccurring romantic themes of innocence, hints of love, and expectation. A production vocabulary is also given. Layered vocals, melodic overload, combinations of guitars, synths, and keys. Rhythmic layers and production quirks underpin simple chord patterns and classic song structures. No solos. Closer “Happily Ever After” neatly ties everything up; however, I’d argue that it leaves things on a cynical note, mocking one of many shining knight endings.
Lyrics are kept to a minimum most of the time, favoring repetition over detail. “Mancini’s Dance Hall” literally places boyfriends and girlfriends at a dance hall. The rest is left to one’s imagination. “Champion” admits defeat when striving for the ideal, but offers assurance that perfection is not what is actually desired. Lead single “The World Is Ours” and “The Untouchables” celebrate the self-confidence gained by joining with another. The universality of the themes here lends appeal to Donora’s widespread fan-base. I’d call it the 8 to 80 fan base.
Musically, the base songs are very simple and catchy. After being dressed up in some surprising and delightful production, the songs are still catchy, but now they have a few layers that one can dissect. “The World Is Ours” is a four chord pattern that lasts nearly four minutes. Piano and vocal melodies float in and out, as do backward blips, reverb washes, and rhythm tracks. Throughout all this, you barely notice the repetition. “And Then The Girls” adds synths and drums loops to the organic mix (and maybe a Reason patch?), resulting in a nice contrast between jagged verses and a chorus that is too sweet to resist.
There are definitely a few throwbacks, too. “If You See My Boyfriend” revels in 50s nostalgia through a 70s Grease lens. The throwbacks are complimented with synthesizers and Donora’s patented “yeahs”. “Boom Boom” and “The Untouchables” remind me a good bit of 90s Britpoppers, Sleeper. The one thing that I find endlessly fascinating is the abundance of unwarranted yeah’s, la’s, oh’, ay’s. I usually feel like someone should really work for these non-words. Maybe the Star Search-ization of contemporary R ’n B is to blame for this. Maybe it’s Vampire Weekend.
All in all, this album’s purpose has been served well. Each song is potent. The sequencing works. It just makes you feel good and is admittedly “fun.”
Check out the video for "The World Is Ours" below.