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Tutu to Tango is the first solo album by Tahiti 80's Xavier Boyer (Axe Riverboy is an anagram of his name). He's cast aside nearly all the electronic leanings of that band for a more organic, acoustic guitar-led approach. Luckily, none of Tahiti 80's melodic grace and sweet soulfulness has been removed. Boyer's tender croon is at the center of the record, he piles on all kinds of strings, brass and backing vocals and rocks out occasionally ("Roundabout," "Carry On") but at its core this is an intimate, heartfelt record. Anyone who found Tahiti 80 a bit too glib and detached will find there's much more to hold on to here. Boyer will never win awards for his lyrics but they feel personal and lean toward quiet melancholy, and the "real" instruments give the record warmth. Songs like "Morning Blues" with its hushed atmosphere, the molasses slow "Long" (on which Boyer pulls off the neat trick of making the drum machine sound melancholy), and "Cross the Line" with its somber strings and aching vocal are the work of someone pouring out their soul. Of course if you liked the slickness and plastic pop of Tahiti 80, there are enough hooks here to make it worthwhile. Besides it's not like Boyer made a lo-fi, bedroom four-track record, Tu Tu to Tango is slick enough for AAA radio and he makes sure to include a giant dollop of sugar to make the heartbreak go down smoothly for those tender, pop-loving souls who need it that way. Whether the release of this album means the end of the road for Tahiti 80 is unclear but it wouldn't be a terrible thing if Boyer keeps releasing records as nice as Tutu to Tango.
Maia Hirasawa first gained notice as a backup singer for Annika Norlin's Hello Saferide, and fans of that band will certainly recognize a similar brand of sweet, intimate, folksy pop on the Japanese-Swedish singer/songwriter's humbly titled debut album. That said, Hirasawa does carve out a strong identity for herself here, one that's sometimes whimsical but not as overly cutesy as her former band (school children vocals notwithstanding); if anything more prone to overeager sentimentalism, but not so earnestly straightforward in her expression of it. Drawing musically from a palette of jazz and broadway-style piano ballads as well as folk and pop, she's generally inclined toward muted, wistful reflection, frequently undercutting even her bubblier, more optimistic seeming pop tunes with shades of lyrical uncertainty and ambiguity. That's especially true of the album's two biggest-sounding moments -- the bouncy full-bore pop single "And I Found This Boy" and the jazzy "Crackers," which features a brass section and a vocal duet with cabaret-pop starlet Miss Li. Some of the calmer numbers, like the string-laden waltz-ballad "Gothenburg" and the charming opener "Still June," with its intoxicatingly lush self-harmonies, offer glimmers of genuine hope, all the sweeter for being unanticipated. Throughout, Hirasawa displays an unusually versatile and expressive voice, reminiscent of Regina Spektor in its distinctive personality and emotional range, which is a large part of what makes Though, I'm Just Me so effortless and pleasurable. A quiet gem of a debut.
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