A Dramatic Duet
Enter an unlikely duo: first, Dan the Automator (Daniel Nakamura), who has produced hip-hop and alternative albums by Kool Keith, DJ Shadow, Head Automatica, Kasabian and the first Gorillaz record, among others. Then enter actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the brunette who stole Michael Cera’s heart in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, who’s appeared in a smattering of big-name films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Live Free or Die Hard, and Final Destination 3. The two met on the set of Scott Pilgrim, where Dan was working on the score and Winstead was the leading lady, and apparently hit it off enough to want to write a record together under the name Got A Girl.
Their surprising chemistry manifests itself in a richly produced album that hearkens back to the sunny tones of French pop from the ‘60s, mixed with a subtle hip-hop flair. Think Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Dutronc, or the atmosphere of Audrey Hepburn’s movies, or that (in)famous scene in Mad Men when Megan Draper coos “Zou Bisou Bisou” at Don. Or just look at the album cover for I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now, where the duo are dressed in sumptuous furs and sharp suits, emitting a nostalgic mid-century swagger. The album’s opener, “Did We Live Too Fast,” expresses this sentiment perfectly: the song opens with brooding chimes that give no indication kind of sound or mood to expect. Then, a sudden swirl of strings sweeps in, with punching percussion and a waltzing beat. Winstead’s silky smooth, seductive vocals are a little smoky here, solidifying the ‘60s French chanteuse image.
The album moves back and forth between pop tracks like “Did We Live Too Fast,” and slightly darker, more cinematic pieces. “I’ll Never Hold You Back” falls into the first category, with its keys, acoustic guitar and perky percussion, a light vibe that gives images of Winstead in a sunsoaked field of flowers, wearing something white and flowy. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s certainly pleasant to the ears. The warm, syncopated beat of “Last Stop” and the singsong “There’s a Revolution,” where Winstead’s vocals switch between something that exudes sweet, melodic innocence and something a bit more inviting, fit into this group as well.
The second type of songs on the album arise, perhaps, from Dan the Automator’s experience writing scores (and maybe his classical violinist training). On “Close To You,” which starts off with tambourines and light percussion, there’s a slightly darker, slicker feel, a minor tonality. There are hints of hip-hop, smoothed over with a veneer of pop, just a few synths and strummed acoustic guitars here and there, a little tinkling of keys. This type of layered composition comes to the fore on “Everywhere I Go.” It begins with a big, epic sound, drums and horns and strings, that give it a lush movie soundtrack feel. “Things Will Never Be the Same” is similar, another cinematic, sultry song with hip-hop leanings, an ominous, slinking bass that gives a haunting undertone to Winstead’s vocals and soaring strings that make the chorus sound like something from a James Bond score.
I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now is meticulously produced throughout, but it does have one weak spot. “Da Da Da,” which comes near the end of the album, is light and upbeat, with a pop rock guitar riff. But it seems like it was meant to be a kind of fun, unfinished jam—bursts of random, jarring synths are scattered throughout, and there’s some meta-dialogue from Winstead (“Oh shit, this song is shit, sucks, it’s a piece of shit,” she says at one point, then “I want to sing this fucking song,” she adds, and laughs heartily). Maybe it’s an attempt to sound approachable and lighthearted, easygoing, but it’s just out of place and unbelievable in the midst of so many carefully crafted songs.
Overall, Got A Girl have created an album that artfully plays with the conventions of pop, hip hop and cinematic music, blending sounds of the ‘60s and more contemporary music into something that invites listeners, for a short time, to step away from the mundane and indulge a little luxury.