JAMES COOK- Arts and Sciences

Arts and Sciences. What are they all about, eh? Sometimes I feel that the world I live in doesn't give much credence to either. But the question is: does James Cook? Arts and Sciences is his first solo outing after releasing three albums with his London-based electro rock outfit, Nemo. In 2009, he recorded a 'baroque pop' album in Berlin with violinist, Anne Marie Kirby. I don't know what that is when it's at home but I presume he then decided to put the two ideas together and lo, a debut album was born.

Recording almost the whole thing himself, 'Arts and Sciences' is poetic and, at times, clever, without trying too hard and so making a big deal out of kissing its own arse. Produced by Chris Corner (Sneaker Pimps), as said, it has a blend of electro synths and string arrangements that often combine to add a layer of something different to what would otherwise be indie-slash-indie pop. A rhythmic album opener in 'The self machine' demonstrates this confidently, the subject perhaps digging at the London scene he once championed. 'You're in love with the self machine/ There's something wrong with your self esteem' he says, a faint hint of hypocrisy being that, at the same time, he rates himself as nothing short of fashionable. What appears to be a subtle political element continues in 'Government kid' and 'Wrong Empire', the former sounding like BC Camplight about five years ago (though very much British), the latter some grown up Indie pop, much more grown up than expected after hearing Cook is possibly best-known for his collaborations with The Mighty Boosh. Many tracks yielding gorgeous melodies, though often sounding like love songs, there is a sense that the undertone is generally more witty than your average ballad.

However, the distinctly adult tone sets the scene for the remaining songs, which, although good, sees Cook getting more complacent. The stripped-down storytelling in songs like 'End of summer' and 'Black market futures' is, though listenable, not as memorable as its predecessors; a cynical view continues in the title track, reminding me a bit of Bowie, nostalgia on Cook's lips, all sounding very glamorous but somehow falling short of striking.

It is not until the final track that things begin to look up again actually; 'Circus of our lives' is a pretty track with piano, voice and strings- sad and almost Bond-esque, reminding us in a fortunate twist of events that Cook is actually more of a songwriter than eventually meets the eye. Still, at times, 'Arts and Sciences' is a concept album about the drudgery of life today, the same drudgery that, ironically, means that we won't leave much of a legacy when we go, no more than the next person anyway. And, eventually, I have to admit that I don't think James Cook will either, though I like him nonetheless.

Anna C

Released 15th October, 2012.