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Lookbook “Wild at Heart” Review

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Minneapolis is becoming increasingly known for being a hotbed of hip-hop and rock/noise acts, but somewhere in the shadows of the city lurks a stellar electronic scene that is just as remarkable. This often overlooked niche is arguably led by the duo of Grant Cutler (Passions) and Maggie Morrison (Digitata) who, under the Lookbook moniker, first captured the scene’s attention late last year with its acclaimed I Fear You, My Darkness EP. Now returning with its first full-length, Wild at Heart, Lookbook has expanded on Cutler’s dancefloor-friendly synths and Morrison’s enthusiastic vocals with an impeccable follow-up that looks to bring the band, and the genre, further into the spotlight.

After its breakthrough last year, Lookbook were invited to perform at First Avenue’s annual Best New Bands showcase and were named the Best New Band in City Pages‘ 2009 Best of the Twin Cities Poll. Such praise is rarely given to musicians who can’t hang. But not only can Cutler and Morrison hang, they add a genuine warmth and sense of personality to a style of music that has most recently been dominated by emotionless electronic acts a la Crystal Castles. At a time when it’s chic to outfit synths with a cold and distant sound, Wild at Heart is a warmhearted throwback that hearkens back to the most welcoming of ’80s pop and rock.

Album opener “Over and Over” is booming in its production, and finds Cutler underscoring Morrison’s sultry vocals with a tight guitar line. “Yesterday’s Company” and “Way Beyond” glisten with Morrison’s spirited lyrics, but as the album rolls on it’s that same enthusiastic playfulness that some might eventually find offputting. Uncorrupted by the glut of ’80s bands that may well be remembered as some of the tackiest in the history of pop music, Morrison has a fierce tendency to lay a dazzling bounce over Cutler’s almost kitschy beats. Depending on how hostile you might be to the sounds of an era gone by, however, this might come off as too sugary at times. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

As far as ’80s revivalism goes, there’s a thin line between unnecessarily rehashing music that died for a reason and being creative in reinterpreting an era’s essence in a refreshing manner. Wild at Heart is a dramatic representation of the latter. If more local acts were to follow suit, it wouldn’t be long before Minneapolis became known for “that Lookbook sound.”

[This article was first published by the Twin Cities Daily Planet.]