Stickers is, simply put, an album of deceit. With vectorized robot adorning the cover art and a genre label like “indie-electro-pop” preceding it, the sophomore offering of British musician Carey Willett’s solo project, known simply as Boxes, easily fosters expectations of a record endowed with noisy, mechanical instrumentals and enigmatic, indecipherable lyrics. The ruse is well-kept, persisting even into the album’s first track, “One” — a wordlessly explosive 2-minute opener that seems to confirm every preconception one might have about the nature of this record.
Until the next song begins, when Willet opens his mouth and the illusion is shattered. Yes, the noisy mechanics remain, to a certain, albeit lesser, extent. But they are coupled with distinctly pure instrumentals and, above all, a quietly emotional voice that sings delicately deprecating lyrics to match. What results from this pairing is an innovative take on the standard of alternative rock as perpetuated by veterans including Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes — call it Ben Gibbard with an electro twist.
This combination is a winning one, when it is actually employed. Tracks such as “Throw Your Stones,” “Red Skies,” and “Silent Alarm” display a well-metered balance of electro-synth and emotion. Listeners find a humanity they can relate to alongside an artificiality that keeps it interesting — the perfect balance of man and machine. Where the album fails is in its inability to maintain this magic formula across the board. The electro influences vary in prominence throughout the album, with tracks such as the very conventional “Stickers” seeing them sorely lacking. Herein lies the album’s final deceit — just when you think you’ve stumbled across something truly unique, you are served up the familiar alt-rock archetype you’ve known all along. That’s not to say these tracks are bad — Willet’s lyrics are as heart-wrenching and his melodies as melancholic as the best of them. They’ve simply been done before, and, given that listeners are simultaneously shown just how far Boxes takes the alt-rock genre with a little mechanized help, Willet ends up losing against himself.
That being said, the album isn’t all bad news. After all, he has to win against himself sometimes too.
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