Kyle Andrews is a notable songwriter, a pretty decent singer and, without a doubt, Nashville-based. But a "Nashville singer-songwriter" he is not. Or at least he's trying his best not to be. His tenure on the notoriously tepid Ten out of Tenn tour didn't help with that stigma, which might explain in some part the extremely pop direction he's taken on his latest Robot Learn Love — a smart, quirky and infectious rumination on the relationship between humanity and technology set to an unabashedly poppy score.
Labels aside, Andrews' ever-brightening blip has moved at a snail's pace on Nashville's radar, despite — or perhaps because of — a string of critically lauded releases that shift drastically between genres and rarely settle on a middle ground. That blip, however, is matched to scale on a national level, as more than a few of his tunes have weaseled their way into America's living rooms through commercials for Holiday Inn, Doritos and Dell, not to mention hit TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and MTV's The Real World.
In other words, the kid's doing all right. In fact, if there's any reason for concern in regard to his career, it's how he plans to up the ante from the pop perfection he's created on Robot Learn Love — a finely crafted and well-balanced summation of his career thus far, centered on a concept that cannibalizes itself several times over to achieve a rare combination of substance and mass appeal.
Andrews is the first to admit that the sonic shifts within his catalog don't exactly make him the most accessible artist out there. His Amos in Ohio LP was a fun experiment in electronic bedroom pop, while his Find Love, Let Go EP shifted things into earthy acoustic territory. His best-known full-length, Real Blasty, is a power-pop explosion where guitars and synthesizers clash head on, but the former usually win the battle and the latter come across more as an afterthought. Robot Learn Love dumps all those records into a digital blender, creating what's easily Andrews' most evenhanded work to date — in terms of genre — and a next-level achievement as an artist.
Given its title, cover art and song titles like "Make Me Feel Human" and "Heart U 4 Ever," Andrews' album concept is self-evident enough. "We work, create art and communicate every day through some sort of computer device, some sort of robot," says Andrews. "That sort of 'online life' is very interesting to me. There's people you know through the computer that you don't really know in real life. So a lot of the idea is trying to be real, trying to be a person and using all that technology to do it."
And what better way is there to drive home such a notion than by documenting these ultra-confessional lyrics with synthesizers and computer software, deconstructing their emotional content and building it all back up into infectious computer pop that uncommonly rivals its groove with substance?
The only way to really describe this 10-song collection is pure "pop" in the most classic and glorious sense of the word — transcending the dated, shrink-wrapped, teeth-rotting connotation cultivated by the likes of your JoBros, J-Biebs, and K$. Andrews' penchant for melody, electronica fetish and guitar-hook prowess homogenize here into an all-encompassing rock-pop-soul bouillabaisse with a much more abiding shelf life.
Constructed both at Andrews' home and in a proper studio, Robot Learn Love offers the intimacy of bedroom pop in a hi-fi package. Hyphy beats and delicate arpeggios are stabbed with brutal guitar stings on opening track "Make Me Feel Human," which falls somewhere between a John Hughes prom ballad and the soundtrack to an inspirational '80s training montage. "Bigger" is a heart-wrenching power ballad that knocks, chirps and weeps like a computerized heartbroken orchestra. The record's first single and video, "Lazer Tag With Imaginary Friends," interrupts a straightforward rock verse with a nasty electro-funk chorus. And perhaps the best example of technology expressing a human emotion with more prowess than the human controlling it is "I'm Coming 2 Get U," which employs a malfunctioning Auto-Tune effect — possibly the only classy way one could use the tired studio toy at this point.
Of course, the true test of "mass appeal" is just what percentage of the masses buys into it. If a Kyle Andrews tune is catchy enough to sell tortilla chips, it would stand to reason that a collection this palatable is enough to sell Andrews himself to a culture with an already voracious appetite for new music, stale or fresh. And while this kind of thoughtful accessibility isn't going to make pop fans any smarter, it might at least turn a few smart folks into pop fans.
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