Album Reviews

Album Review: The Indecent Cigar Emporium – Straight to Video

The Indecent Cigar Emporium – Straight to Video

Here is an album whose title calls out for the following opening paragraph…

Straight to video (and now straight to DVD) films are movies that were not given a proper cinema release as it was felt that they wouldn’t make much money that way, and could recoup some of their budgets by skipping the first stage of releasing a movie. There is no such process in music making, as CD/vinyl/digital is the first and last step in the process. However, if the debut album from the Indecent Cigar Emporium (ICE) was a film, there’s no way distributors would have let it anywhere near a cinema.

Blending funk, rock, and smatterings of electro, Straight to Video sounds like a poor Republic of Loose knockoff, without any of the charm of Johnny Pyro’s gang. Electro-funk albums are meant to be interesting, catchy, and danceable. However, songs like ‘Heimlick My Heart’ with its false Jake Shears falsetto are more headache inducing than dancefloor fillers.

The album tries to be too clever, and instead of creating mellifluous tunes, the Indecent Cigar Emporium produce disjointed, uneasy listening funk. For an album that’s so well produced, it’s an enormous shame the songs just don’t stand up. They’re dated and disappointing, particularly the awful ‘Alan’.

A very poor debut album, and one I will never return to again. If this was a straight to video movie, it’d be lucky to even get someone to rent it, never mind buy it.

[xrr rating=1/5]

Stream ‘Hemlick my Heart’:

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23 Comments

  1. izaiyoi

    Quite a harsh review. This album deserves better than cheap comparisons to Republic of Loose and Jake Shears.

  2. They may be cheap, but they are apt. The Scissor Sisters and the Republic of Loose are damn good at what they do, sadly ICE are not.

  3. izaiyoi

    However, the Scissor Sisters and RoL are a lot more mainstream than the audience that this particular genre appeals to.
    I appreciate that your review approach encompasses a massively broad spectrum of genres, but this approach only serves to decrease the critical context that is available to the reviewer when commenting on specialist acts.
    Personal taste is one thing, but couldn’t you be a bit more impartial and make better references against more relevant material?
    If it’s not your cup of tea, then fair enough, but I don’t agree with your assessment of this album.
    I happen to think it’s a decent debut, and having seen them live, I can attest that they are indeed quite good.

    You only make reference to two of the tracks on the album without going into detail (except the ‘falsetto’ remark). Nothing about the other tracks? Are they so bad that they don’t even warrant a mention? Is there anything constructive that could be said about them, even constructive criticism?

    It’s completely understandable that you must review as appropriate to your blog, but surely you could make a better effort to encourage others to try out emerging artists from specialist genres instead of making a couple of scathing comparisons to two mainstream acts.

  4. Ness

    Jeez, did these guys bully you in school or something?

    Also, Republic of Loose are a pile of shit. :)

  5. Firstly, what’s wrong with being mainstream? Only people who don’t make money from their music criticise others for being mainstream. There is such a thing as being good and mainstream (see Arcade Fire’s recent Grammy win for example).

    ICE aren’t a specialist act, their music isn’t some bizarre niche with the prefix “post-”, they’re a pretty straightforward act with a very straightforward sound. If you’ve read the other reviews on here, then you’ll see that I have been impartial from start to finish. Why would I dislike this more than an electro record? Someone who knows me well and/or is a regular reader would expect me to have a lot more time for this record than for mynameisjOhn or Refraction – two genres I probably would have totally avoided on the blog before now.

    Yes, I only mentioned two tracks, but had I mentioned the others here, your remarks probably would have been a lot more caustic.

    And to finish with your last point, which was also your first – the Indecent Cigar Emporium aren’t niche. Unless niche is a synonym for “music so poor it’ll never reach a wider audience”.

  6. izaiyoi

    I don’t believe I’m being caustic at all. I’m simply trying to debate that your review could have been fairer than the tone it was written in. Also, I have read your other reviews, and this isn’t the first time that someone has responded along these lines, in fact you invited the responder to submit a review. As we all know, much work goes into getting a record together. Surely someone in a position like your good self could better help awareness of the graft of emerging bands instead of flat put-downs because the recording doesn’t sit well with your own personal tastes.

  7. That’s why I said “a lot more caustic”. Yes, I did invite the responder to submit a review, which he declined as he knew the artist personally. However, in this case I don’t feel that’s necessary, as this album was well within my remit to review, particularly based on the comparisons made in the press release: “Fans of Chromeo, Of Montreal, Flight Of The Conchords, Funkadelic, Prince, Kool & The Gang and Outkast will appreciate the idiosyncratic structure of the Indecent Cigar Emporium and their music, that alongside an unrivaled enthusiasm makes ICE one of 2011′s most exciting Irish bands.”

    The band may be hardworking, and this is probably best shown in their live shows, but unfortunately it doesn’t show too well here. Criticism is always going to be subjective. There isn’t a reviewer anywhere who doesn’t bring personal taste to the table when talking about a record/film/play/etc. So why shouldn’t my personal taste have an impact on my reviews? This is a personal blog, maintained by one person, however, if I was writing for Q Magazine or Rolling Stone, I still would’ve given this album one star.

  8. Rob

    As a professional musician and sound engineer of 13 years, I have to say that Straight To Video by The Indecent Cigar Emporium is an incredibly impressive debut. I have the album on right now and the level of musicianship, particularly in the rhythm section is of a very high standard. The range of vocal talent on the album is very broad and diverse, and with regards to the production of the album, I am gobsmacked! The sleeve says “written, performed, recorded and produced by The Indecent Cigar Emporium” and I hope the guys in ICE, if they have the misfortune to read the truly awful and unprofessional review above (have you even listened to this album?), can get a chance to read this: Congratulations to a very talented, original and dynamic band with a great future ahead of them, you have created a wonderfully, atmospheric and beautiful collection of songs, I can’t quite get around how well this is recorded, arranged and performed! I have not been this impressed with an album since I heard The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips. 4 stars from me ****

  9. Thanks for your comment Rob.

    If the music is as good as you and izaiyoi say it is, and I’m seriously deluded in my opinion of it, then this review shouldn’t matter a jot. One bad review does not a bad album make.

  10. Rob

    Thanks for getting back Ronan, I would agree that one bad review does not a bad album make. I am a strong supporter of new and ambitious bands and artists that despite the obvious difficulties in achieving perhaps commercial success or other such like with the material they compose and submit to the world, most likely at their own expense and effort in this case as I can see no label affiliation on the CD sleeve, they plough on and bravely risk the integrity of their aspirations to make the world a much more interesting place. I would graciously ask that you could perhaps, in the case of future work you dislike strongly (and your opinion is and should be respected), offer constructive criticism and even recommend the work of a particular artist/band to fans of particular genres instead. I believe that this would provide encouragement and avenues of exploration, not only to whomsoever you are reviewing, but to those aspiring artists who would read such negatively focussed comments, and become somewhat resentful and spiteful towards a vital and necessary source of information and opinion such as the work you do. Thanks again for communicating with me on this matter.

    Regards,

    Rob

  11. izaiyoi

    Of course, I also respect your opinion, however I would also echo Robs request.
    No-one is above criticism, and I strongly believe emerging acts need as much encouragement and constructive criticism as they can get, but not blunt put downs.
    You have a decent size readership that could be influenced in what new acts they will or won’t check out purely on the basis of what you write about them.

  12. I regularly champion emerging talent, in fact I’m often the first blogger to mention a lot of bands who are trying to make a name for themselves. I’m not going to oversell something I don’t like. Yes, I do have a decent size readership, and that’s partly because they know what to expect from me, they know I won’t point them in the direction of something that isn’t good.

    You may see my criticism of this record as harsh, but it reflects how I feel about the record. Also, some of it may be seen as constructive. If the band were put out by the review, and felt strongly enough that they wanted to improve, they could take something from the following:
    “Electro-funk albums are meant to be interesting, catchy, and danceable.”
    “The album tries to be too clever, and instead of creating mellifluous tunes, the Indecent Cigar Emporium produce disjointed, uneasy listening funk.”

    They need to make songs that flow, that have simpler melodies. They don’t have to be clever or try to overdo everything. Go back to the basics, and work from there. There’s just too much going on in songs like ‘Stakeout’ or ‘Sensual Synthesis’. Pare it back. Take out some of the overzealous bass riffs, replace them with something more tonal, and especially rid embellishments like sirens and vocal effects. Look at ‘Sugar Daddy’, where he (Powerman I’m guessing could be his name) tries to sound like Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords in the verses, but actually sings properly for the chorus. He’s a good singer, so why does he have to pretend he’s something he’s not? (‘Sensual Synthesis’ is the worst culprit of this)

  13. John

    It seems like you have an awful lot to say about this record, all of it negative. So I reckon spending almost 50% of the word count enlightening your readership on what, exactly, ‘straight to video’ means within the context of the entertainment industry is dong yourself a disservice. Unless, of course, you were struggling to find things (you know, specifics….) to be disproportionately bitchy about.
    Seems like you’re playing the man rather than the ball to be honest, with some sort of ad hominem vendetta against one of the band members because he fingered your Grannie. Which, to be fair, is quite a likely result of any such encounter, judging by the filth of their lyrics and the state of their fingernails.
    They don’t sound anything like Republic of Loose. The only point of commonality is their nationality and a couple of shared influences.
    Of the very slight constructive criticism you did provide, the phrase ‘dated’ sticks in my craw the most. I’ve got to say, I thought that the album (and I agree that it has a couple of weaker songs on it) was the complete opposite, marrying a retro funk sensibility with a lot of the sonic elements and production styles of more recent genres and choons.

  14. Have a look at the comment above yours John, I have plenty of “things to be bitchy about”.

    Wouldn’t “a couple of shared influences” have some sort of impact to make them sound similar?

    And isn’t the fact you mention “retro funk” just a way of saying that some of it is indeed old-fashioned. Giving a 1970s Ferrari a nice new paint job doesn’t make it a modern supercar, you know?

  15. Also:
    “Seems like you’re playing the man rather than the ball to be honest, with some sort of ad hominem vendetta against one of the band members because he fingered your Grannie. Which, to be fair, is quite a likely result of any such encounter, judging by the filth of their lyrics and the state of their fingernails.”

    What?

  16. phil b

    Ronan,I am all for opinions. Free speech is the basis of our democratic society. My opinions have landed me in all sorts of trouble, so lets avoid getting into a mud slinging mire on that element !

    However !

    On the other hand my opinion of your review is to say the least obtuse !

    You are clearly hell-bent on the idea that an acid tongued style approach may elevate you to a young intern position in the musical troves of Hot Press or Rolling stone perhaps ? Your short winded,(footnote of a review) completely lacked any basis behind comments. I really am not in the position to get into a historical rhetoric of electro / musical comparison’s, but it does not take a genius to know that comparing the ICE with the Republic of Loose clearly shows you do not have a clear grasp or the authority to be openly reviewing music,and ironically such a comparison kind of hoist’s you by your own petard !

  17. An acid tongued style? That’s clearly not what this review is.

    “I really am not in the position to get into a historical rhetoric of electro / musical comparison’s [sic]” – then are you really in a position to totally dismiss the Republic of Loose comparison? You do know that they’re so much more than ‘Comeback Girl’ and the singles you may have heard on the radio.

    I’ve clearly explained my position on this album, as well as backing up everything in the other comments. But then again, the only reason I’m doing this is to get an internship with Hot Press I suppose.

  18. John

    Regardless of supercar analogies/references to frigged Grannies etc., I can’t help but get the impression that you sort of missed the point of the record- at least as far as I understood it.

    To my ears/mind, it’s a pastiche/ part-piss-take, using a lot of the lyrical devices and musical hooks that funk bands have deployed sincerely, but making a sort of cocking-a-snook point about the whole genre whilst doing so. Very importantly, all this is done whilst making one want to dance. That it doesn’t make YOU want to dance is all good, very valid, and completely subjective. I have gotten my awkward, overly-limby groove on to Right Said Fred, so can’t claim any real expertise in this area.
    If you don’t find the jokes funny, the beats danceable, or the lyrics salacious, then that’s your prerogative as someone who likes jokes/beats/lyrics. But as someone who’s job it is to review music, I’ve got to disagree with how uncompromisingly dismissive your take on the whole shebang is.

  19. Nay

    Hello! The reviewer is entitled to his opinion. Ronan could have written this review like a thesis with each failing bullet-pointed and italicised and it wouldn’t have changed the fact that he didn’t like the album. If he wants to liken it to RoL or Goldie Looking Chain that’s his own prerogative, and the band have to also take some blame for that by funk-styling themselves the way they do. Also the introduction paragraph about Straight To Video is totally warranted and in fact, obvious given the title of the album. When sending out promos, the band know that there is a high chance of negative feedback. That should be accepted in its own right instead of the band having a hissy fit and posting links with the leading comment of “this guy really hates us”…take it on the chin and grow from it fellas. You have a decent enough fanbase who enjoy what you do, one person’s opinion of the music is not going to change the minds of the people who bought the album and go to the gigs.

  20. Brian

    I agree with Nay. It’s entirely the reviewer’s own opinion. If you disagree with it, buy the album and go to their gigs. No point going on their website and picking a fight over fuck all.

  21. Richie

    As a member of ICE maybe I should stay out of this but it’s getting fairly emotional in here so…

    Thanks Ronan for taking the time to listen to the album and to write about it. Although I’m bummed about the comparisons to two bands I can’t stand, you are indeed entitled to your opinion.

    To address what Nay said above, we did, of course, expect negative feedback and were really looking forward to seeing what the impartial opinions would be but I must admit we were taken aback by how unconstructive the criticism was. The stuff you said in the last paragraph in post 12 is more like what I think a good review should be, with some personal stuff thrown in for entertainment value, of course. I actually agree with many of your criticisms. Most of the album was recorded in early 2009 and over the process of finishing it and mastering it we realized it wasn’t quite the grandly-produced, dancefloor-filling, pop album that we set out to make but the end result still has it’s place and it’s charms (obviously you think differently and that’s fair enough).

    Contrary to what Nay says, I think the explanation of Straight to Video is completely unnecessary. Most people know what the term means and as an album title it is intended to poke fun at our own failings. We thought that was quite obvious. Apart from being a nod to an old format and the 80s in general, it’s a derogatory term for a failed project that isn’t expected to make much money or a movie that started out with lofty ambitions but didn’t quite make it and as a title is intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

    But listen, I just thought I’d jump on here to say that I don’t know (or at least recognize) half of the posters above and I both agree and disagree with many of the opinions, as with yours. Obviously we shared it on our facebook page as we show all words spoken about us, good or bad. To say ‘this guy really hates us’ based on the review is a fair comment I would say. We would equally say ‘Check out the very kind words from….’ if it were good, so we reject accusations of a ‘hissy-fit’. It would be mis-leading to only share positive opinions about ourselves.

    As I said, thanks for taking the time to listen to it, even though it’s not your cup of tea and respect for taking the time to reply to each comment. And look on the bright side; you’ve got an ICE beer-mat/paperweight/coaster, free of charge.

    Nice one,
    Richie (ICE drummer)

  22. Thanks very much for the comment Richie. Unfortunately, it’s just a digital beermat I have ;)

    I know now that I should have put the kind of substance from comment 12 into the review, especially given the final rating, but like everything, you learn and improve.

    However, I would like to say I don’t hate you. Nor do I hate your record. I don’t hate any album, and never will. Although I do have a very strong dislike for Florence and the Machine. But that’s neither here or there. To say “this guy hates our record” would’ve been probably a better description on your facebook page, but that said, I’m not upset with that. It’s gotten me a few extra hits, and a lot of comments.

    That said, the two albums I reviewed after this were both 4 star records, and they’ve 2 comments in total between them. Strange, isn’t it?

  23. Rob

    I’d just like to say thanks and much respect to Richie from the band for his post. You are a testament to all artists who wish to make the world a better place with what you do, so you do it, whilst not being afraid to communicate honestly and openly with those who would paint you in a very negative light, and with a calm and respectful demeanour too. I wish you every success with not only this great album, but with the many more I truly hope you will create.

    All the best,

    Rob

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