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Rhythm & Views

Hey Willpower

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So here's the deal: Indie rocker Will Schwartz from Imperial Teen decides to make a foray into the world of radio-friendly pop à la Prince. He forms Hey Willpower with The Boy Explodes' Tomo Yasuda, and releases P.D.A. , an allegedly non-ironic dance-pop album.

It's by no means awful, but it's not really good, either. Yasuda's free-spirited beats work better than Schwartz's vocals, which are too affected. It's like listening to your gay kid brother pretend he's Madonna by laying down his own "sexy" vocals with a sophisticated version of GarageBand. You want to encourage him, but you're inwardly wincing.

When Schwartz sings, "I can make you scream / I'm better than a Krispy Kreme" on "Magic Window," the line between parody and homage blurs. His need to wink knowingly at his audience, reminding us that he knows how silly the genre is, breaks the spell. If Hey Willpower just delivered up the bubblegum, I'd happily chew. But they often don't go far enough, preferring to stay in some ironic middle ground. You can tell "Uh-Uh-Uh" is supposed to be the standout club-thumper, but it sounds like Justin Timberlake lite.

What's really missing here is the infectiousness of the best pop records. P.D.A. manages to capture this in fleeting moments, like the Postal Service-y "Hundredaire" or the Stevie Wonder-inspired bridge on "Too Hot." But overall, Hey Willpower delivers something self-consciously kitschy rather than joyously earnest. Guess you can take the man out of the indie, but you can't take the indie out of the man.

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