AlunaGeorge’s sweet sounds fall flat live


George Reid and Aluna Francis, both rock band refugees, united to form the duo AlunaGeorge, who can swipe left-field sounds from the musical fringe and render them as comfortable as old shoes. (Fiona Garden)
September 4, 2013

A few good hooks will go a long way toward passing off strange rhythms as familiar ones.

U.K.-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge is a good example of modern pop’s ability to swipe left-field sounds from the musical fringe and render them as comfortable as old shoes.

On Tuesday night at U Street Music Hall, the duo performed a 45-minute set of futuristic bubble gum music to a sold-out crowd that barely registered the cerebral textures that sometimes buoyed the group’s lilting hooks.

Singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid — both in their mid-20s — mix cotton candy strands of ’90s R&B melodies with the alien drum programming of contemporary electronic music, particularly the wobbly and frantic styles favored by Warp Records artists such as Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke.

Last year, the duo released its first EP on the Brooklyn-based indie label Tri Angle, well known for crackling, glitch-riddled electronic music. For their debut LP, “Body Music,” the duo has made the jump to Island Records, a major label.

AlunaGeorge is one of many male/female duos who grew up splitting time between guitar-based music (mainly post-punk and alternative rock) and the machine-based sounds of hip-hop, dance music and R&B. Francis and Reid are rock band refugees and guilty-hearted poptimists, looking to splice their dual impulses toward noise and radio-friendly melody. Swedish brother-and-sister act the Knife offsets ebullient electronic sounds with darker impulses drawn from minimalist techno, a presentation informed by some of the more politically-minded punk rock groups of the ’90s. Sleigh Bells attempts to make harmony out of club-friendly rhythm programming and ’80s hair-metal riffage. Both have found a way to splice the urgency of live rock music with machine-based sounds.

AlunaGeorge still has a ways to go on that level. Joined by a bassist and a drummer, the band’s live presentation flattened out the futuristic feel of their productions. The drums lost their off-kilter wobble. The bass tones lacked the lung-flattening lows that give computer music a physical presence in a club. Francis has a tuneful voice, but her singing is high and tiny. She’s not capable of generating much drama behind the mike.

Not every leading lady needs to be a screamer, though, and part of AlunaGeorge’s appeal is the childlike innocence of their presentation. Songs like “Best Be Believing” and “Just a Touch” are fairly G-rated and mostly discuss the intricacies of boyfriend-girlfriend relations. They’re well-crafted science fiction summer jams that get by fine by being sweet, rather than bombastic.

Leitko is a freelance writer.

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