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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Chris Crofton - Hello It’s Me Music Album Reviews

Chris Crofton - Hello It’s Me Music Album Reviews
The comedian, actor, musician, and professional personality recounts a miserable breakup with disarming sincerity and grim humor on a solo debut steeped in rock history.

The first words Chris Crofton sings on his debut solo album are also the words that make up its title: “Hello, it’s me.” If they leave you thinking of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 hit, that’s no accident. Crofton peppers these ten songs with knowing references to rock history: “I cried 97 teardrops today,” he sings on “Numbers Game,” one-upping ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears.” “I know what becomes of the brokenhearted,” he asserts on “Find Me in the Bar,” as if he’s responding to Jimmy Ruffin on the jukebox. Somehow, he never sounds like he’s trying to impress you with the size of his record collection; he presents these lyrics as though they’re all part of a common pop language. Crofton is telling his own sad story through the music that has soundtracked his life—and maybe yours, too.

And what a story he has. A comedian, actor, musician, and professional personality, Crofton is one of those guys who just seems to pop up randomly in any number of mediums. You may have seen him in the 2009 Harmony Korine flick Trash Humpers or on the CMT sitcom “Still the King.” Sometime in the past decade, you may have witnessed him fronting an outrageous quasi-metal act, Nashville’s Alcohol Stuntband, or watched him doing stand-up in Los Angeles, or heard him co-hosting one of several podcasts. Perhaps you’ve read Crofton’s long-running advice column in the Nashville Scene or remember bumping into him in one of the city’s bars when he was still drinking heavily.

Several years sober now, he gets serious on Hello It’s Me—although not in the demonstrative, grave manner of, say, Jim Carrey brooding his way through Dark Crimes. Instead, these songs are low-key and open-ended, offering more questions than answers as they chronicle what sounds like a pretty miserable breakup. When he asks, “Would you, could you love me?” on “Non-Conformist Blues,” Crofton isn’t posing the query merely to his ex but to everybody within earshot.

As dark as the album gets, Crofton can still be funny. These aren’t joke songs (thank god), nor is Hello It’s Me some clever meta-commentary on the breakup album, but there are moments of humor, whether it’s the extremely specific locales he names on “Everywhere You Should Be (Except for in Love)” or the stargazing ufologists he describes on “UFO Hunters.” “They’re searching the sky, I’m staring at my phone,” he sings, right before Jim James’ guitar solo explodes out of the song like an Alien chestburster. Even as he waits for a text that will never arrive, Crofton knows the odds of romantic reconciliation are every bit as astronomical as the chances of a flying saucer landing in his backyard. The chuckle gets stuck in your throat.

Jettisoning the heavy rock that defined the Alcohol Stuntband, Crofton embraces a more straightforward pop sound, paired with a sincerity that can be disarming—especially when he addresses his struggle with alcoholism on “Find Me in the Bar”: “That’s where I feel most at home,” he sings. “It’s where I feel least alone.” But the album’s primary subject is his broken heart. Featuring members of Houndmouth and Bully, it deploys the gentle patter of drums, soft-rock guitar strumming, and weepy strings to express a strain of heartache that is familiar from so many other breakup albums. Fleetwood Mac and Sleater-Kinney aside, these records are almost always one-sided, airing the grievances of only half a couple. As a result, they can be exercises in ugly recrimination.

Crofton doesn’t solve this problem, but he does acknowledge it in an indirect way, mainly by hoarding all the blame himself. “I know it’s all my fault, because whose else would it be?” he sings on “It’s All My Fault.” On some level, he suspects he’s unlovable, and that paranoia lends these songs a deep pathos as well as enough grim humor to undercut any self-seriousness. Hello It’s Me conveys pain with an asterisk: It hurts like hell, but it’s not the end of the world.

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