In 2009 things were looking bright for Blackpool electro singer Victoria Hesketh. Under the moniker Little Boots, she had widely ciculated videos of her playing a visually stimulating sequencer called a Tenori-on. She had released an EP, Acrecibo on IAMSOUND, featuring two tracks, “Meddle” and “Stuck On Repeat,” that both saw success on dance blogs. She was a BBC darling. Pop music was gaining traction in a indie market. Atlantic was to release her debut album, Hands.
The album’s single, “Remedy,” was co-written by RedOne, who also produced Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” which was released at about the same time. While the single was a hit in her native U.K., the single and album floundered in the U.S. Whether or not the heavily produced Hands was too indie for a pop audience (Lady Gaga) or to pop for the indie fans (Robyn) is impossible to know. Listen to the album it becomes apparent that the raw and exciting tracks from Arecibo got glossed over and shallacked into too generic neat little packages. Her buzz had reach critical mass, leaving Little Boots to recede from the public eye for the better part of four years, while Hands‘ producer Greg Kurstin has become an “it” guy in the industry who can claim Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” among his growing list of hot songs by hot pop artists.
Now, after a long time out of the spotlight, Hesketh has gone all-in on the indie side, beginning with the single “Shake,” which was, at first, released to the web to little fanfare in late 2012. Now Little Boots is back with a sophomore album, Nocturnes, released on her own newly-formed label, On Repeat. It’s apparent that this new arrangement has provided her with extreme creative control.
And On Repeat certainly isn’t the only indie feature on Nocturnes. Every good dance album needs powerful production, and Tim Goldsworthy of DFA fame produced seven of the album’s ten tracks, most notably the sultry “Motorway” and the earworm “Broken Record.” Hercules And Love Affair’s Andy Butler produced two, including the dance jam “Every Night I Say A Prayer.” The gleefully fun sci-fi track “Satellite,” co-written by the ne’er-do-wrong Ariel Rechtshaid (Sky Ferriera, Charli XCX, Theophilus London, Usher), is as equally “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and that damn Neverending Story song as it is closing-time-at-the-discotheque.
And Nocturnes is all disco, harkening to classic stars like Donnna Summer and still-modern dance queen Kylie Minogue. It’s dance music without the heart-exploding bass thumps—the Tenori-on, keyboards, synths and stylophone are Boots’ weapons of choice. In fact, almost every track would make excellent fodder for a house remix. But thematically, the record is a bit thicker. The record casts Hesketh in various roles: self-referencing wit (“Broken Record”), dreamer seeking the dusky illusion of escape (“Motorway”) and nostalgic romantic (“Satellite”). “Touch down, you’re far too close to the sun,” she sings on the album’s closing track. “Your wings may still yet come undone/learn how to walk before you run.”
There are shortcomings, like the filler track “Strangers” and the personal “It’s All For You,” which performed live in a minimalist setting was quite lovely, but the studio version is too heavily laden with distracting backbeats. While maintaining her space as neither and sexpot diva or a grossly doe-eyed ingenue, Little Boots remains unapologetically sincere in her words, and the crowd will still mainline the disco beats and, save for a few lulls, dance until we die.